Jill Colton, staff writer
Avalanche season is here and the Canadian Avalanche Centre offers some valuable information on how to stay safe in the backcountry.
With more snow falling everyday, the mountains are beckoning adventurers to get outside. While it can be an exciting time for winter activities, it's important to protect yourself against rapid flows of snow.
“People have to be prepared with the best current avalanche information. Consulting the bulletin at avalanche.ca is a good option. Here you can find the latest dangers and how it could affect you if you're venturing out in those areas,” says John Kelly, Operations Manager with the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC).
Besides visiting the website, there are other ways people can learn about slides. “Everyone that goes out into avalanche terrain should get training with a course. This helps people recognize avalanche terrain and learn how to rescue your companion should something go wrong.”
“A course could also apply to people that are doing simple things like going snowshoeing and hikers. We're seeing an increased number of people doing these kind of things, especially in urban centres.”
Carrying the necessary gear is crucial for anyone chancing avalanche terrain. “There are three essential pieces people should take with them. The first is an avalanche transceiver. This is a specialized device for locating people if they've been buried beneath the snow. The second is a collapsible probe and the third a collapsible shovel.”
There's really no certainty when it comes to avalanches. “Slide conditions change fairly rapidly, so what starts out as a good year can turn bad. Sometimes bad layers in the snow pack can heal.”
Is it possible to forecast avalanche conditions for the upcoming season? “It's hard to look into the crystal ball, but we do know that La Nina/El Nino could have long term effects on avalanches. Right now, the current snow pack on the ground is fairly normal, fairly stable in general character. We're hoping this continues, but looking back at last year some of the problems didn't begin until well into January.”
According to the CAC, in the past 30 years (1978-2007), an average of 11 avalanche fatalities have occurred per year in Canada. Snowmobiling is now the backcountry activity that accounts for the most avalanche fatalities.