Avalanche Canada, in partnership with Parks Canada and Alberta’s Kananaskis Country, is issuing a Special Public Avalanche Warning for recreational users of backcountry and front country avalanche terrain, in effect immediately until Sunday, Dec. 27. The warning is widespread and applies to the following forecast regions:
- South Columbia
- North Columbia
- North Rockies
- South Rockies
- Lizard Range-Flathead
- Banff National Park
- Yoho National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Waterton Lakes National Park
- Kananaskis Country
The snowpack is currently in a precarious state throughout these regions due to the presence of a critical weak layer 60–100 cm below the snow surface. The storms that blew through western Canada over the past week added sufficient snow above the weak layer to bring the snowpack to a tipping point where large avalanches can be easily triggered by people on snowshoes, skis, or snowmobile.
“With indoor gatherings restricted by the pandemic, we recognize many of us will want to spend time outdoors in our beautiful backcountry over the holidays,” explains James Floyer, forecast program supervisor for Avalanche Canada. “People must be aware that even though the weather has settled, dangerous avalanche conditions remain throughout much of western Canada. There is a serious potential for large, human-triggered avalanches at this time.”
Avalanche Canada, Parks Canada, and Kananaskis Country warn all backcountry users and anyone recreating in avalanche terrain, including those going outside ski area boundaries, to make conservative terrain choices and stick to low-angle or densely forested slopes. Approach any slope that is steep enough to avalanche with extra caution, and be on the lookout for terrain traps like cliffs, rocks, gullies, and creek beds, which can make the consequences of even a small avalanche even worse.
“We know sunny weather can give people a false sense of security when they venture into the backcountry,” adds Floyer. “This is not the time to let your guard down. Steep open slopes will look tempting but are best left alone for now.”
Those heading to the mountains to snowshoe or explore the front and backcountry should also be aware that many popular summer trails are exposed to avalanche terrain. Plan ahead and research your route to make sure you are avoiding these areas, or hire a certified guide to lead your party. For more information, visit the Parks Mountain Safety website.
Backcountry users should always check their regional avalanche forecasts at www.avalanche.ca. Everyone in a backcountry party needs the essential rescue gear—transceiver, probe and shovel—and the knowledge to use it.