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Avalanche catches skiers on B.C. mountain

Click on the photo to watch videos about avalanches and how to prepare for the threat
Click on the photo to watch videos about avalanches and how to prepare for the threat

Lisa Varano, staff writer

January 16, 2011 — The risk of avalanche has been pushed to the extreme level in British Columbia.

Extreme avalanche risk for Glacier Park, BC
Extreme avalanche risk for Glacier Park, BC

An avalanche at a southeastern British Columbia ski resort has caught seven people, injuring one skier's leg.

The avalanche happened on an expert ski run on the inbound area of Fernie Alpine Resort on Saturday. The seven people on the run were not completely buried by the avalanche, which was 30 metres wide and one metre deep.

Avalanche conditions have been lifted to the “extreme” level in Glacier Park, British Columbia. The risk in other parts of B.C. and Alberta is marked as “very dangerous,” says the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC). Backcountry skiers and snowmobilers should be especially cautious.

A series of lows over the weekend could add to the unstable snowpack and, therefore, the avalanche risk remains high in both B.C. and Alberta.

The high avalanche risk is also affecting traffic in the region. Several highways have been temporarily closed because of the threat of avalanches.

It was just last weekend when the CAC issued its first Special Public Avalanche Warning of the year. It was issued on Friday, January 7 and covered B.C.'s South Coast and Southern Interior. It stayed in place until Monday, January 10 when the risk was then lowered to considerable.

“We issue these when there's an increased risk of avalanche accidents,” says John Kelly with the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

Kelly says a recent Pacific system brought more than a metre of fresh snow to the mountains. “The snowpack is now at the prime state for recreationists to get out and so now a lot more people are exposed to the danger. When the storm ends, people often think the avalanche problem has ended too...and they may be actually recreating in places where it is a little bit too dangerous to go,” explains Kelly.

Rain, not snow, on the Lower Mainland
Rain, not snow, on the Lower Mainland

To survive avalanche season, anyone who ventures into remote areas should know how to recognize dangerous terrain, the avalanche centre advises.

While heavy snow is falling at high elevations, particularly in the B.C. Interior, other parts of the province are being soaked with heavy rain.

“During La Niña, B.C. does get a lot of low pressure systems. Whether it's rain or snow depends on the temperatures,” says Dayna Vettese, a meteorologist at The Weather Network.

With files from Andrea Stockton

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