“Special Avalanche Advisory”

What a year it’s been so far in the mountains of British Columbia. Frigid temperatures east of the Rogers Pass and into the Rocky Mountain Trench combined with one of the lowest snowpacks in recent history (up to the week of January 10 – 15) created that horrible sugary snow that just sits on top of scree, waiting for fresh snowfall to trigger a slide. On the Coast, epic snowfalls in November and December keep rollin’ (with a cold snap thrown in for good measure between Dec 27 and Jan 3) – followed by a return to major dumpage. Then, two warm, moist storms hit – the first a fairly normal Pineapple Express on Jan 5/6, followed by a Pineapple Punch on January 14-16. Temperatures during this time – esp last Sunday – hit 14 degrees in Vancouver. Rain drenched every summmit from the Coquihalla to Rogers Pass. Then, as quickly as it happened, temperatures plummeted again, and storms in the Interior were accompanied by high winds. During the Monday/Tuesday stretch, avalanches in the Columbia region released on literally every aspect. Veteran forecaster Karl Klassen, of http://www.avalanche.ca candidly wrote in a report earlier this week: “I must stress that several of these avalanches surprised professionals, some of whom are very senior practitioners with many, many years of experience.”

Earlier, today, the CAA issued this warning:

Natural, explosive, and human triggered avalanches with crowns of 100 – 400 cm releasing on a variety of persistent weak layers and even the ground are being reported. Weather is forecast to improve over the next few days. Natural activity is expected to slow down or even stop but human triggering of large, destructive, un-survivable avalanches is expected to continue for several days at least. Don’t let good weather and a lack of natural avalanche activity fool you into thinking it’s ok to go into larger, steeper, or more aggressive terrain. It is recommended you stay out of avalanche terrain entirely in all alpine areas.

The fear is that although natural releases have already taken place, that the weight of skiers and snowmobilers heading into the backcountry will trigger massive new slides on highly unstable layers still buried close to ground level. Sunny skies are predicted through much of the province for the weekend, and if crowds in the backcountry are anything like they were two weeks ago, virtually every parking lot and pullout will be jammed with sledders and skeirs.

That said, avalanche reporting and safety gear (ABS bags, better beacons, sturdier shovels and probes) have  improved dramatically over the past decade, but – as Klassen himself would point out – we’re still constantly challenged by what causes one slope to slide, and not the other. As someone who just dropped big $$$ on a new touring rig, I can hardly wait to get out there. But let’s not let our enthusiasm get in the way of common sense. Ironically, today’s report comes on the very same day that various tributes to Craig Kelly (deceased snowboarder who was caught in a deadly slide in 2002) were posted on Facebook…

Read the full advisory.

In this incredible macro photo by adventure photographer Greg Maurer, you can truly see how fragile hoar crystals really are.


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