Conditions good for a backcountry Christmas

Kootenay avalanche situation mostly low in the lead-up to Christmas

If you don’t mind dodging boulders, it’s a good time to be out enjoying the backcountry, according to Canadian Avalanche Centre.

“Conditions in the south of the province overall are fairly conducive to backcountry travel right now,” said public forecaster James Floyer.

There’s actually not much snow cover in the South Rockies and Kootenay Boundary regions, he explained.

“We’re still dealing with some early season hazards: not so much avalanche hazards but rocks and stumps and trees and open water at lower elevation.”

The avalanche risk right now is mostly in the north of the province, with the risk getting lower the further south in B.C. you area.

“The low snow amounts are actually keeping the avalanche hazard relatively benign. We are seeing, typically, moderate avalanche hazard in the alpines, sometimes at tree line, and low avalanche hazard below treeline,” said Floyer.

“But of course, the flip side of that is there’s not so much powder snow to ride.”

Avalanche testers have identified what could become a hazard in the South Rockies, however.

On Thursday, a snowpack test revealed a buried surface hoar – a weak layer – in the Flathead. Watch the test on video at blogs.avalanche.ca/category/southrockies/.

The weak layer forms on the surface then gets buried by more snow, Floyer explained.

“It acts as a failure plane within the snow pack. When you have the combination of the surface hoar layer and you get a sufficiently stiff slab above it, that’s when you get conditions that are ripe for avalanches.”

It suggests a hazard that could be on its way, he said.

“It’s certainly something to think about and probably indicates we should start to think about slightly more conservative terrain choices, even though that situation is not quite there yet to create a really significant avalanche hazard. We’re still probably a storm or two away from turning into a really dangerous situation,” said Floyer.

A big dump of snow or warmer temperatures can both change avalanche conditions quickly.

“I would certainly watch for anomalous snowfall amounts,” said Floyer.

“The other thing is if we get a significant warming.

“What the warming does is it solidifies and consolidates that upper slab a little bit and makes that slab properties a little more conducive to having slab avalanches.”

Although conditions are relatively stable right now, recreationalists should still be cautious in the back-country.

“We always recommend that people check the avalanche forecast before they head out. We have daily updates. You can do that at avalanche.ca,” said Floyer.

“Make sure you are carrying the correct avalanche safety gear, which at a minimum is an avalanche transceiver, a probe and a shovel. You can consider an airbag pack as well. And make sure you know how to use them. If you haven’t already done so it’s a great time to take an avalanche course.”

There are avalanche safety courses upcoming in Fernie: Jan. 13 at the College of the Rockies, phone 250-423-4691, and Jan. 18 through Zac’s Tracs, phone 403-850-3042.

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