As the East Kootenay got buried in new snow over the last two days, backcountry avalanche conditions took a turn for the worse, especially in the Elk Valley, where danger ratings are the highest in the region.
And more snow is on the way, according to the weekend weather forecast.
Avalanche Canada has the Lizard Range and the Flathead region as the highest danger rating in the alpine, treeline and below treeline areas of the backcountry.
Colin Garritty, a forecaster with Avalanche Canada, says the snowfall will cause new storm slabs, or new snow problems as it consolidates but doesn’t form a strong bond with the existing snow surface over the short term, which can cause avalanches with human triggering.
“I would say the danger has increased at the higher elevations as well, where the wind has a chance to move that snow around and stiffen it a little bit more quickly than it would settle on it’s own,” said Garritty, “so that storm slab forms a little more rapidly in those wind-exposed areas, when the snow has had even less time to form that bond with the surface.”
Garritty also warns that there are persistent weak layers buried deeper in the snowpack that are being stressed and tested by the new snow load that the region experienced.
“Storm slabs that fracture, that release in the current conditions, those present a possible trigger for deeper layers in the snowpack,” Garritty added. “Those deeper layers are mainly active or reactive at lower elevations, so treeline and lower.”
Avalanche Canada conducts its own weather forecasting, and more snow is expected heading into the weekend, which will add to the regional danger rating.
“Areas like the Kootenay-Boundary may start to tread into high danger, the Purcells which are currently rated moderate will move up to toward considerable danger and places like the Lizard Range and South Rockies may continue to stick around the high danger level,” said Garritty.
“Essentially, as new snow accumulates, danger is increasing.”
Weather forecasting completed by the end of the day, which includes estimated new snowfall, will help guide the organization’s approach to setting the backcountry danger rating over the weekend, he added.
Garritty emphasizes the importance of having proper training to spot hazardous avalanche terrain and to be able to self-rescue in the case of an avalanche event. A probe, shovel and transciever are essential pieces of equipment for any backcoutnry user, while avalanche skills training courses can be accessed at the Avalanche Canada website.