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Avalanche risks in the Spring

Lyndsay Morrison, staff writer

March 25, 2011 — Spring has sprung, and avalanche experts have tips and advice for staying safe in the warmer season.

A slide occurs in Canmore, AB
A slide occurs in Canmore, AB

With the change in seasons and temperatures starting to warm up, many Canadians think that the risk of avalanches in BC and Alberta goes down at this time of year.

However, the Canadian Avalanche Centre says that is not the case.

“Springtime is generally when we see the largest avalanches,” says Cam Campbell, an official at the centre. “These are the climax, full path avalanches that will tend to wipe out large swaths of forest if they're big enough.”

Campbell says one of the reasons there's often a risk of avalanches in the spring is due to sunshine.

“Essentially it'll warm up the snowpack close to zero degrees throughout the entire snowpack, and that causes it to basically weaken. So it doesn't bond well to the ground or any previous weak layers that are near the ground.”

Sunshine and warmer temperatures can help trigger a slide
Sunshine and warmer temperatures can help trigger a slide

Still, many Canadians enjoy spring skiing and snowboarding. And with lots of snow accumulating in the mountains of BC and Alberta this year, the slopes are expected to be busy in the coming weeks.

The experts have this advice for outdoor enthusiasts in the spring season.

“Any sun exposed slopes in the afternoon is when you can expect these wet, loose snow avalanches to occur,” says Campbell. “So it's often best just to avoid southern exposure in the afternoon if you're traveling in the springtime.”

In an average year in western Canada, the risk of avalanches can exist into the middle of May.

Wondering what to expect for the spring season? Be sure to check The Weather Network's Spring Outlook 2011.

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