Be wary of avalanche danger

Avalanche Canada warns that the danger in the region varies as snowstorm peaks on Friday.

The recent snowfall isn’t just having an impact on the roadways—it’s also a cause for concern in the backcountry.

Avalanche Canada is monitoring the current storm system through the East Kootenay, which is supposed to peak on Thursday and Friday, before tapering off.

In the Purcell region, Avalanche Canada is forecasting moderate avalanche conditions in the alpine, both above and below the tree line. Over in the Elk Valley, the danger is a little bit higher, at extreme in the alpine, with a considerable rating at and below the tree line.

However, moving into the weekend, the danger rating should drop a little, according to Penny Goddard, a public avalanche forecaster with Avalanche Canada.

“People should be aware that there will still be lingering problems and the snowpack is quite tricky at the moment, it’s not a straightforward kind of situation,” Goddard said. “There’s a persistent weak layer buried in the snowpack, so that’s a layer that’s particularly reactive to triggering avalanches.

“That kind of problem can last in the snowpack much longer than you might expect. So even when the storm finishes and the skies clear, we’re still going to have a high level of concern for people triggering avalanches.”

In the Purcell region, Avalanche Canada says wind slabs could be lurking behind ridges and ribs, and may be extra sensitive when they overlie a buried sun crust. Persistent slabs are also vulnerable to be triggered by the weight of a person, even from a distance.

In the Lizard Range and Flathead, expect extreme winds to form reactive wind slabs in exposed lee terrain, while weak surface hoar crystals buried at the beginning of January are variably reactive in persistent slabs.

“We’re going to be keeping a good eye on this storm period we’re going through right now to see how much avalanche activity there is,” Goddard said. “If we’re lucky, there will be a lot and it will help to clean out the problem.

“But behind the storm, any avalanche slopes that haven’t avalanched should be treated with a lot of caution.”

Even though the avalanche season started slow, Goddard noted that things may be picking up with all the new snowfall.

“In the last week, there’s been a real lot of avalanche activity, it’s been really active,” she said. “Over the season as a whole, the season started off pretty slow with a lot of dry weather and during those periods we didn’t have a lot of activity. But right now, things are changing.”

For more information on avalanche conditions, including tips to stay safe in the backcountry, visit the Avalanche Canada (formerly the Canadian Avalanche Centre) website at www.avalanche.ca.