By Dan Walton

Pioneer Staff

After several heavy snowfalls throughout the province this season, the Canadian Avalanche Centre has issued high danger ratings throughout many regions of British Columbia including the Purcells.

As of Wednesday, February 19th, conditions above or near the treeline and at the alpine level were under high alert Level 4 for an avalanche, with terrain below the treeline rated as Level 3 considerable avalanche risk according to the Canadian Avalanche Centre website. These warnings are consistent in bordering regions: the southern Rockies, Kootenay Boundary, and South Columbia.

Panorama Mountain Village saw approximately 75 centimetres of snow fall between February 11th and 18th. To mitigate the risk for skiers and boarders, the resorts blasting team has been eliminating avalanche risks on the high risk slopes.

Controlling the risk to the public before anything is open or when the mountain has closed for the day is our main priority, said Panorama marketing manager Jamie Hurschler. We control our inbound terrain when necessary with explosives or by skier control (ski cutting).

But for anyone planning to recreate outside the resorts, the Canadian Avalanche Association is advising steering clear of the backcountry.

A cohesive slab averaging 75 centimetres in depth rests on a weak layer that remains very sensitive to human triggering, reads a statement on the website. This problem is widespread, even below treeline. Fresh wind slabs are forming in open terrain at and above treeline too.

Should an avalanche occur in the Purcells under existing conditions, the expected size will be a two or three on scale of four, according to the website.

Panorama advises skiers and boarders never to enter the backcountry without a transceiver, probe and shovel and the knowledge to use them.

During big storm cycles like we have just seen, the stress on these layers can increase, therefore prompting a higher danger rating, Mr. Hurschler said. It has been rated high during this recent cycle.

When skiers and boarders leave a resorts boundary, they forgo the expertise of its avalanche assessment team and ski patrol service, he said.

Smartphone applications have been developed to serve as an affordable alternative to beacons that help locate buried bodies.

But late last fall, the Canadian Avalanche Centre criticized the apps, claiming smartphones are incapable of connecting with universal transceivers, which operate at 457 Khz the optimal frequency for tracking through dense snow and solid objects.

None of the various communication methods used by these apps come close to that standard, said Canadian Avalanche Centre executive director Gilles Valade.

For a smartphone program to be effective, rescue teams would have to know the victim was using an app as a beacon, and the particular brand.

And the accuracy of a GPS signal is nowhere near the precision required for finding an avalanche victim, said Mr. Valade. The Canadian Avalanche Centre sees no value in the savings offered through such apps, he said.

We are warning all backcountry users to not use any of these apps in place of an avalanche transceiver.

But even legitimate beacons wont always ensure survival. A fatality occurred earlier this month when on, February 15th, a 35-year-old man wearing proper safety gear, including a beacon, succumbed to injuries sustained from an avalanche triggered by a snowmobiling accident on Boulder Mountain close to Revelstoke.