Avalanche Canada has issued a special warning for Vancouver Island’s backcountry users.
The warning is in effect until Feb. 4. Forecasters are concerned about a buried weak layer that is generally not found in the Island’s warmer climate.
The recent snowfall has now put a greater load on the layer, which means it is deeper in the snowpack. When the weak layer is triggered, the resulting avalanche could be deadly.
“As we said in the original warning, this persistent weak layer is a concern because it is not typical for this region,” explains Avalanche Canada forecaster Kate Devine. “In the rugged terrain of the North Shore mountains and the popular backcountry areas of Vancouver Island, there are lots of places where this layer is a really big problem. We urge all recreational backcountry users to be extra diligent in their route-finding and give yourselves a large margin for error when travelling in any type of avalanche terrain.”
On Jan. 31, a skier in the Comox Valley was caught in a Size 2 avalanche and was buried in 1.5m of snow north of Mount Apps.
According to Avalanche Canada, the avalanche fracture was 200 to 300m wide and from 30 to 150cm high and ran for about 200m to stop on a bench.
The group she was with had shovels and beacons and were able to dig out the woman after about five minutes of the avalanche happening. She suffered from multiple leg fractures and a dislocated shoulder.
Avalanches are classified from 1 to 5 with 1 being ‘relatively harmless to people’ and 5 being the ‘largest snow avalanches known; could destroy a village or forest up 40 ha.’
According to the Vancouver Island Avalanche Centre, new snow, cold temperatures and some wind effect have made for outstanding snowmobiling and skiing/snowshoeing. However, they add as a result of the new snow, it appears that avalanche activity is occurring within the upper 20 cm to 50 cm of the upper snowpack.
They noted the alpine, treeline and below treeline rating for avalanches on Vancouver Island are all rated at ‘high’ and for backcountry users, to keep an eye on snowfall rates, wind transport and rising temperatures, as this promotes slab formation and “touchy/easily triggered” conditions.
On Jan. 28, Avalanche Canada issued a warning for the North Shore mountains due to an unusual snowpack with weakened lower layers.
They added that backcountry users should always check their regional avalanche forecasts at avalanche.ca and that anyone in a backcountry party needs essential rescue gear – transceiver, probe and shovel – and the knowledge to use it.