Sledders beware; avalanche conditions are dangerous in the backcountry of both the South Columbia and North Columbia this weekend.-Image credit: Avalanche Canada

Avalanche risk high

Use caution, be well-equipped and well-prepared for backcountry excursions

There’s danger in the mountains above.

Many avid sledders will be heading out to the backcountry this weekend and when they do, they need to keep in mind the avalanche risks are considerable to high in both the South and North Columbia.

“In the South Columbia, the danger rating is high in the alpine and considerable at and below the tree line,” said Avalanche Canada public avalanche forecaster Mark Bender. “We just came out of a really warm and stormy period – wet and rainy at lower and mid elevations and snowy and windy at upper elevations. That has elevated danger ratings over the past few days.”

While the region was slowly emerging from that storm system on Thursday, Bender said conditions were moderating for a day and then moving back into a stormy period on Saturday running into Sunday.

“We expect danger levels will rise again, with a pretty similar pattern to what we just went thorough – reasonably heavy precipitation, coming in quite warm again,” said Bender, noting conditions should return to considerable risk on Sunday. “There’s a potential for rain up to 2,000 metres and snow above.”

Avalanche Canada describes considerable as having “dangerous avalanche conditions – careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making essential. Natural avalanches possible; human-triggered avalanches likely. Small avalanches in many areas, large avalanches in specific areas, or very large avalanches in isolated areas.”

High danger ratings include “very dangerous avalanche conditions. Travel in avalanche terrain not recommended. Natural avalanches likely; human-triggered avalanches very likely. Large avalanches in many areas and very large avalanches in specific areas.”

These conditions apply to Owlhead, Queest Mountain, Blue Lake and Hunters Range as well as Crowfoot on the North Shuswap.

”If people are heading out to the backcountry they should go to avalanche.ca and check on conditions in the North and South Columbia region,” says Bender. “They need to equip themselves with proper safety gear – a transceiver, shovel and probe. And the final link is knowing how to use that equipment if something does go wrong out in the backcountry.”

Further to that, Bender recommends people take avalanche safety courses from qualified trainers. A list of area providers is available at avalanche.ca and then by clicking on the “Learn” tab in the upper menu.

Avalanche Canada also has a map that provides danger ratings for the various sledding areas.

Bender says there have not been as many fatalities among snowmobilers in B.C. this year as last, but for many the sledding season is far from over.

Although some snowmobilers will be parking their sleds and looking ahead to other outdoor experiences, diehard sledders will continue to seek the snow at higher elevations.

“Some people will be recreating way into May while the majority of people are ready to move on to summer in April,” Bender says. “People still have to be diligent – very cautious, regardless of the season.”