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Avalanche centre urges caution in the backcountry

Carolyn Grant

After four avalanche fatalities in the past week, the Canadian Avalanche Centre is urging backcountry users to be cautious in the coming days.

The latest victim was a 29-year old man from Crawford Bay who was caught in a slide near the Gray Creek Pass this past Tuesday. Both Kimberley and Nelson Search and Rescue teams responded to that incident, but were unable to resuscitate the victim.

Search and Rescue unit members and the CAC are advising that this is a very problematic year for avalanches, and snowmobilers need to be aware of avalanche terrain even in valley bottoms.

“We’ve been dealt a pretty troublesome snow pack this season and our terrain choices need to reflect that fact,” said Karl Klassen, Manager of the CAC’s Public Avalanche Warning Service.

“The weak layers we’ve been tracking for many weeks remain a significant problem and areas where you might have felt safe in previous seasons may not be the best choices this winter.”

He points out that two of the latest avalanches, including the one at Gray Creek, were in cut-blocks, below the treeline where riders might feel safe.

“Often, riding below treeline can be a safer choice in terms of avalanche danger,” explained Klassen. “But with the current warm temperatures and wet snow at low elevations, that’s not the case at this time. Riders need to be wary of avalanche terrain even near valley bottom, at least until a solid freeze occurs.”

Until conditions improve, the CAC recommends travelling on small, simple, low-angle terrain with no terrain traps. Exposure to large slopes and cornices above should also be avoided whenever possible.

It’s also critical that all backcountry users are equipped with essential safety equipment for avalanche terrain, Klassen said.  “Everyone in the party needs an avalanche transceiver, a probe and a shovel every day, regardless of expected conditions. And it’s equally vital that everyone is familiar with and has practiced using this equipment. If an avalanche occurs, there is no time to go for help. The critical window for finding and extricating a victim is just 10 minutes, when there is an 80 per cent chance of survival. The odds drop dramatically after that. At just 35 minutes, there’s a less than 10 per cent chance of survival.”

For more information visit the CAC website at www.avalanche.ca for forecasters’ blogs and conditions.

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