Avalanche safety first

Karl Klassen, public avalanche warning service manager for the Canadian Avalanche Centre said that while they don’t have any data available specifically for the Tweedsmuir Park area, conditions in this area are likely to be similar to those across the province.

Karl Klassen, public avalanche warning service manager for the Canadian Avalanche Centre said that while they don’t have any data available specifically for the Tweedsmuir Park area, conditions in this area are likely to be similar to those across the province.

“It is a time for people to be very careful,” he said.

Klassen said he would recommend people stay out of back country areas altogether, but if deciding to venture out the best thing is to avoid any areas above the tree line and avoid steep or open slopes.

“Even in a valley you are not safe because avalanches have been coming down into the valley from the top of an open slope,” he said.

“Conditions are serious and people need to be careful of run out zones. It is just not a great time to be out,” Klassen added.

Local residents planning to head out for any back country adventures in the Northwest region should educate themselves on avalanche safety and consider any Canadian Avalanche Centre warnings first.

Warnings change daily with the weather conditions so it is best to check for avalanche warnings before venturing out.

On most days last week in the Smithers and interior region, which extends in area down to Houston, a high risk of avalanche in alpine areas, at the tree line as well as below the tree line was reported.

Adventurers should also avoid wind exposed alpine areas and tree line terrain.

Cam Campbell, from the Canadian Avalanche Centre said that there are a number of techniques to manage the risk of an avalanche, including sticking to areas close to the trees and being aware of what is happening above you at all times.

He also advises that there should be only one person on a slope at a time, even if someone is stuck, others should spot from safe areas well away from the potential run out of large avalanches.

Adventurers should also pull over or cut into a new line periodically to let your sluff [loose snow avalanche] run by.

It is essential to educate yourself on avalanche trigger points if you are planning any out door activities which could put yourself at risk.

Common trigger points include shallow areas in a variable depth snowpack, below trees and rocks where the snow pack isn’t supported and beneath a rock face where the snow pack is thin.

Natural triggers include loading from new snow, wind driven snow, rain, temperature changes and thawing caused by warm air.

Human triggers are skiing snowboarding, snowmobiles and explosives.

The Canadian Avalanche Centre reports that the majority of avalanches that kill back country recreationists are accidentally triggered by the victim or by a member of the victim’s party. It doesn’t matter whether they are on foot, skis, snow boards, or snowmobiles.

Back country adventurers should also be on the lookout for signs of past avalanches including vegetation damage, fracture lines and avalanche debris and steer well clear of the area, however a lack of avalanche activity is not a reliable indicator of a potential hazard.

Persistent slab avalanches are tricky to manage because they can often be triggered by light loads with very little warning and they often to release above the trigger, making it difficult to escape if you are the trigger.

During December 2010 and January 2011 there has been two reported fatalities in B.C.’s back country.

The first occurred at the Coquihalla Summit when a snowmobiler rider triggered an avalanche.

The second fatality occurred at Mt. Tannle, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park when 46 year old Manfred Rockel of Calgary lost his life while he was back country skiing.

An avalanche was also triggered on Babine Mountain near Smithers on Dec. 16 by a snowmobile rider. There were no reported injuries in this incident.

From 2000 to 2010, a total of 146 back country avalanche fatalities occurred. Forty one per cent were attributed to snow mobile riding. A further 20 per cent were back country skiing, Snowmobile triggered avalanche fatalities have increased steadily since 2007.

Avalanche bulletins for most areas in Canada are available on www.avalanche.ca.