Avalanche risk persists in the Rockies as heavy snowpack melts and shifts

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Backcountry users warned to tread carefully as avalanche season begins

Snow may not be top of mind in Calgary these days, but avalanche risk persists in the mountains and backcountry users should continue to be extra mindful of overhead hazards, parks staff advise.

"Avalanches are still occurring," Kananaskis Country public safety specialist Michael Olsthoorn said.

He advised skiers, snowshoers and scramblers to be aware of the snowpack beneath them and avoid exposure to slopes above them that could slide.

There have been several significant slides throughout the Rockies over the past few weeks, including some massive avalanches.

A series of storms earlier this year that dumped heavy loads of snow on top of a weak layer deep in the snowpack led to a historic avalanche cycle in March.

Backcountry regulars said they hadn't seen anything like it for decades, as massive slides kept releasing in unexpected areas, bashing through trees and creating new run-out routes.

While the risk is not as high now as it was a couple of months ago, the remnants of that cycle persist and spring avalanches continue to surprise even experts.

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A deliberately triggered avalanche ran farther than expected last week and closed the Icefilelds Parkway for more than a day between Jasper and Lake Louise.

Parks Canada visitor safety specialist Aaron Beardmore said it's best to limit backcountry travel to the mornings and avoid avalanche terrain later in the day.

"If you are going to be out there hiking or skiing, we encourage people to start early during the cool temperatures when the snow pack is sealed and it's much cooler and less likely to slide," he said.

"But when it gets warm you want to be heading out of there."

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