As temperatures increase and snowpack starts to shift, Interior Health is reminding users of B.C.’s vast backcountry to be vigilant of significant avalanche risks. With avalanche season in the province only about halfway through, and B.C. finds itself already having eclipsed the 10-year average for avalanche deaths.
During the past 10 years, approximately 73% of all Canadian avalanche fatalities have occurred in B.C. The latest set of fatalities involved three German tourists that were killed in an avalanche while heli-skiing near Invermere on March 1, 2023. Police said 10 people were caught in the Wednesday slide, with four injured and three killed. Local health authority officials are speaking out to warn British Columbians about the increasing risk of avalanche.
“Being caught in an avalanche is a life-threatening situation that has already claimed twelve lives in the Interior Health region this season,” said Dr. Fatemeh Sabet, medical health officer, Interior Health.
“Avalanche Canada continues to forecast a dangerous snowpack. There have been more than double the number of avalanche fatalities compared to the previous season and we are only halfway through the season. We urge everyone thinking of venturing into the backcountry to check www.avalanche.ca and make conservative choices, avoid dangerous terrain, and consider delaying a backcountry trip until conditions are safer.”
Backcountry users are also reminded to avoid steep, shallow, and rocky terrain features where the snowpack transitions from thick to thin. Groups in the backcountry should be equipped with common avalanche safety equipment such as a shovel, probe, and transceiver, and have the proper training on how to use them. Backcountry users should also limit their exposure to hazards such as gullies, cliffs, and trees.
Representatives with Avalanche Canada, a non-profit and non-government organization looking to end avalanche injuries and fatalities in Canada, said this season’s conditions are tricky and complex.
“A widespread weak layer exists near the base of the snowpack throughout the Interior and it’s been the cause of most of the fatal avalanche incidents this season,” said Ryan Buhler, forecast program supervisor with Avalanche Canada.
“This layer is deep enough that we are unlikely to see clues of instability, like nearby avalanche activity, ‘whumpfing’ or cracking snow. The only way to minimize exposure is to select low angle, low consequence terrain and avoid areas where an avalanche could propagate widely. It’s likely that this widespread weak layer will persist for the remainder of the season.”
Avalanche Canada delivers approximately 85 percent of all of its offered services in B.C., including avalanche forecasting. They expect with warmer temperatures coming, snowpack in B.C.’s backcountry will become even less stable. Buhler noted that sunny weather often creates a false sense of security, luring people to avalanche-prone terrain.
For more information on avalanche preparedness, forecasts, and current conditions, visit Avalanche Canada’s website at www.avalanche.ca.