Considerable risk for avalanches this weekend in backcountry, says forecaster

·2 min read

Wednesday's storm brought high winds to southern Alberta and up to 50 cm of snow in the southern Rockies — increasing the risk of avalanches.

Avalanche Canada said there is a "considerable" risk warning and forecaster Kate Devine said the heavy snowfall and high winds can have a big impact on the snow pack.

"A natural avalanche cycle, which means that avalanches start running just because they are getting new load from snow and wind … they don't need a trigger like a person standing on a slope or something like that."

Devine says people recreating in the backcountry this weekend should be aware that storm slabs are widespread and easy to trigger. "So although it is a step down from that high danger rating where we are expecting a lot of natural avalanches, it is still a dangerous avalanche condition and requires very careful terrain selection and a certain level of understanding of snowpack to be able to manage those conditions safely," she said

She reminds the public that those heading to the mountains should get avalanche training, have the proper gear and check the avalanche forecast.

Tips and risks

A guide by Canmore resident Doug Latimer called Avalanche! The Guide's Guide to Safer Travel in the Mountains, is an interactive e-book that offers some tips.

He says research shows 80 per cent of avalanche fatalities are caused by human error — enforcing the need to improve avalanche safety.

"Statistically speaking, you have about a 50 per cent chance of still being alive after about 12 minutes in a full burial. People do survive longer, but the odds decrease," he said.

The writer explains that the book includes tips in case backcountry visitors are in a compromised situation.

For example, remember to pack a bag that includes an avalanche transceiver, a probe, shovel and helmet.

"The equipment is essential, but what I consider even more important is knowledge," he said.

That means that the area you're travelling to should be well-researched before you go, which you can do online at Avalanche Canada.

With files from Rick Donkers and The Homestretch.