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 Posted in    |  on March 10th, 2017  |  by

Avalanche Canada warns backcountry users to be careful in March

Avalanche Canada put out a special warning on March 2nd, reminding backcountry users to take extra care over the new few weeks
The bulletin was a generalized message rather than a specific warning, but cautioned that March is one of the worst months for avalanche fatalities in Canada, and targeted snowmobilers as well as backcountry skiers, pointing out that last year 80 per cent of the country’s avalanche victims were snowmobilers.

Invermere-based Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) certified ski guide and Canadian Avalanche Association professional member Brodie Smith, who has taught avalanche skill training courses to snowmobilers, told The Pioneer that March is definitely a time to be careful.

“In general, March is a really transitional month for the snowpack. It goes from being a winter snowpack to a spring snowpack as the temperatures warm. And as temperatures warm, deep instabilities in the snow can ‘wake up’,” Mr. Smith said.

Skiers and snowmobilers are both at risk, he noted, but added “snowmobiles can travel quite quickly from an area of deep snowpack to an area of shallow snowpack, and the weight of a snowmobile can have deeper impact into the snowpack.”

Mr. Smith said the message put out by Avalanche Canada “is a generalized message for everybody, but I can speak for a lot of people in the industry by saying, ‘Beware the ides of March’.”

He encouraged those planning on going into the backcountry to check the local bulletins from Avalanche Canada regularly, looking for cautions about deeper, persistent weak layers in the snowpack structure.

The Avalanche Canada safety message mentioned that of the 15 people who died in avalanches last year, 12 were snowmobilers, and that over the past five years, 45 people have been killed in avalanches — 24 of them while snowmobiling.

It also noted that two-thirds of these snowmobiling fatalities were Albertans, and that, of these Albertans, more than 73 per cent were from the Edmonton area.

“Unlike other user groups, snowmobiling avalanche fatalities are showing a clear pattern,” said Avalanche Canada executive director Gilles Valade in the bulletin. “When we see such a cluster in terms of place of residence, it raises a concern that our safety messages aren’t reaching the people who clearly need it most.”

“An Avalanche Skills Training (AST) course is the first step for anyone recreating in the backcountry,” said Mr. Valade. “More than 8,000 people take this training each season. Unfortunately, less than 15 per cent of these students are snowmobilers. Convincing more sledders to take this training where they will learn safe travel techniques for avalanche terrain and how to self-rescue is a significant goal for Avalanche Canada.”

To check local avalanche bulletins, and for more information, visit www.avalanche.ca.

Steve Hubrecht
Email: steve@columbiavalleypioneer.com
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Reporter Steve Hubrecht arrived in the Columbia Valley after working for newspapers in Fernie, B.C., and Beijing, China. He spends as much time outside as possible – if he's not at the Pioneer and Echo office, he's probably out telemarking or hiking. He grew up in southern Ontario and graduated with an MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario in 2006.

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