Fernie isn’t the only place to fear an avalanche this winter.
Rescuers and avalanche experts recovered the bodies of seven
snowmobilers near Fernie on Monday. One more snowmobiler remained unaccounted
Two avalanches struck a party of 11 snowmobilers Sunday. All 11
young men were experienced snowmobilers from the nearby town of Sparwood. They
were wearing safety beacons, while riding in the Harvey Pass area, about 40
kilometres from Fernie.
Three of the men dug themselves out and were found with minor
injuries Sunday. Eight bodies have been found dead.
Avalanche forecasters are warning backcountry users of a weak
layer underlying all the new snow that has fallen in Whistler in recent days.
That weak layer will take some time to bond to the new, warmer snow and has
increased the possibility of avalanches across the province.
Jan Tindle, an avalanche forecaster for Whistler Mountain, said
Monday the local snowpack is developing with some “real weaknesses” in it, and
that widespread avalanching could happen if a lot of snow falls on it. But cold
temperatures are also a factor.
“When you get cold temperatures in a shallow snowpack, the snow
crystals transform and they turn really sugary,” she said. “Right now that
sugary snow is sitting on top of an ice crust that formed in early December.”
Anna Brown, a public avalanche forecaster with the Canadian
Avalanche Centre in Revelstoke, told
in a Dec. 23 interview that the overall probability of avalanches had been
reduced by the low snowfall.
But if the mountains start to get more snow, as they have the
last few days, skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers eager to head into the
backcountry could trigger avalanches simply by adding weight to the snowpack.
“With the cold temperatures, the snow is becoming sort of
looser and less cohesive in some locations,” Brown said. “In the future if we
do get a really big dump of snow, it could cause us some problems.”
A Dec. 28 report from the Canadian Avalanche Centre shows a
high risk for avalanches in alpine areas throughout the Sea to Sky corridor.
The report shows that treeline areas could be at high risk for avalanches on
Tuesday, Dec. 30.
A primary concern in the region is “windslabs” at alpine and
treeline areas — these are layers of wind-deposited snow consisting of
snow crystals that are broken into small particles by winds, and then packed
There are also weak layers of facets, grains that bond poorly
to each other and create a weak snowpack.
As Brown tells it, it’s not hard for a skier or snowboarder to
start an avalanche.
“The most common way of triggering an avalanche that people get
caught in themselves is by their own skis,” she said. “Just in riding over the
terrain you cause stresses in the snowpack. They release a fracture and that
fracture actually may propagate wider than just the crack that your skis make.
“Then you may be standing on what’s like a slab of snow, and
once that slab starts moving, it tends to push people over and that’s how they
get caught in an avalanche.”
One of the biggest contributors towards increased avalanche
hazard is the small snow crystals that came with last week’s cold temperatures.
“The recipe that we’re looking at right now has to do with the
weak, sugary crystals that are sitting on the ground,” Brown said last week.
“They are really not the type of surface that will adhere well to any new snow.
“You’ll be looking at some sharply increasing avalanche hazard
through your region. That’s something to be looking out for.”
Anyone wishing to keep abreast of avalanche forecasts can go to
Whistler Blackcomb’s Avalanche Advisory on its website. They can also go to
www.avalanche.ca — that’s the link to the Canadian Avalanche Centre’s
website, where you can find updates not only for Whistler, but for areas
throughout British Columbia.