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'Very weak' snowpack creating dangerous avalanche conditions in the Rockies, experts warn

At least 20 cm of snow is expected to fall in parts of the mountain national parks this week. The fresh snow will lead to heightened avalanche hazard at all elevation bands, said Parks Canada. (Dave Gilson/CBC - image credit)
At least 20 cm of snow is expected to fall in parts of the mountain national parks this week. The fresh snow will lead to heightened avalanche hazard at all elevation bands, said Parks Canada. (Dave Gilson/CBC - image credit)

Fresh snow on top of weak snowpack layers is creating dangerous avalanche conditions throughout Alberta's Rocky Mountains, says Avalanche Canada.

The avalanche safety organization reported considerable to high danger levels across much of the province's avalanche terrain on Tuesday — with a forecast storm expected to push the risk of triggering a slide even higher.

"It's fairly widespread. … We're seeing human-triggered and remotely-triggered avalanches," said Tyson Rettie, Avalanche Canada forecaster.

"So whether you're sledding, skiing or whatever, that potential is certainly there."

High avalanche risk is widespread through the mountains, according to Parks Canada.

After a dump of snow fell Sunday, Alberta's Rocky Mountain national parks could see another 20 to 40 cm of snowfall this week, said Lisa Paulson, visitor safety specialist with Parks Canada for Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks.

The new snow will add stress to snowpack layers already vulnerable due to February rain and a long period of little snowfall.

Forecasters are urging backcountry enthusiasts to avoid avalanche terrain while the danger remains high.
Forecasters are urging backcountry enthusiasts to avoid avalanche terrain while the danger remains high.

Forecasters are urging backcountry enthusiasts to avoid avalanche terrain while the danger remains high. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"We're seeing some very large avalanches," said Paulson. "With the incoming storm that we're expecting to start on Wednesday … we will see widespread avalanche activity."

Paulson is warning outdoor enthusiasts to play it safe through the weekend.

"It's incredibly luring, the powder skiing at the ski hills right now," said Paulson. "But what's a bad idea is stepping out of the ski area boundaries into avalanche terrain or not adhering to the closures within the ski area."

Risk remains high following avalanche death

Warnings follow the Saturday death of a man buried by an avalanche while snowmobiling in southwest Alberta.

The man, identified by RCMP as a 46-year-old from Magrath, Alta., was with another man and two children on Saturday close to the B.C. border.

The two children and the other man managed to escape the slide.

Paulson said there are safe options for people aiming to spend time outdoors this week, such as certain designated cross-country ski trails.

"Really the name of the game right now is to just rein it in," she said.

Outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to contact information centres for help with safe recreation planning.

Avalanche Canada is urging all backcountry users to take avalanche safety training classes before heading out and to travel in groups.