Early season - Avi Season
With rumours of weather patterns bringing a wetter and colder winter than average, local adventure seekers are getting ready to throw their gear in the trunk and explore the backcountry.
Parks Canada wants to address the unique challenge of early winter avalanche risk in the Columbia Valley and mountain parks. According to a recent press release, chances are from mid-October to mid-December that someone in western Canada will die in an avalanche before winter really begins. These sort of accidents, they believe, can be reduced through informed decision-making.
“We’re seeing people going touring and ice climbing earlier and earlier each year, which is great” said Grant Statham, Parks Canada Risk Specialist. “ But we need to remember that even a small avalanche can kill you.”
Statham explained that when you’re out in the backcountry in the early season, it’s important to constantly check your exposure and be aware of trees, rocks, stumps and other hazards that are below you. He also said that there can be a drastic snowpack difference according to elevation.
“What you see in front of you might not be what is below you,” said Statham.
Parks Canada operates a full-service avalanche risk control program in the mountain parks and spends $1.7 million annually on avalanche related activities in Western Canada, including highway avalanche control and regular avalanche bulletins. The bulletins will be available no later than mid-November.
New this year for Parks Canada is an updated North American Public Avalanche Danger Scale, available on the Parks Canada website. The scale is divided into danger levels, travel advice, likelihood of avalanches and avalanche size and distribution.
“We get a lot of questions about what each danger level means,” said Statham. “I suggest printing off the scale and studying it. It’s really easy to read and understand.”
Statham recommended checking your gear at this time of the year, like putting fresh batteries in transceivers and making sure shovels and probes are ready to go. It’s also a good idea, he mentioned, to practice transceiver searches in your backyard.
“It’s all about getting your head back into the game.”
The Canadian Avalanche Centre recently announced two new decision-making tools for managing avalanche terrain: the Avaluator 2.0 and the CAC fieldbook.
The new and redesigned Avaluator offers a rules based approach to travel in avalanche terrain based on an extensive survey of Canadian Avalanche professionals.
A big difference between the old Avaluator and the 2.0 version is a larger focus on terrain identification. The new tool, explained John Kelly, Operations Manager at the Canadian Avalanche Centre, helps recreational backcountry users be more aware of warning signs for terrain; it provides a more systematic and easy way to evaluate whether the warning signs are there or not. The card contains two checklists, one for terrain and one for snow.
The CAC fieldbook is modelled on professional-level methods and provides a systematic approach to avalanche risk management.
“There are a lot of people, in Golden especially, who use every spare minute to think about how they are going to explore backcountry. They treat it like a job even though it’s a recreation,” said Kelly.
Both tools are a result of a three-year project funded by the National Search and Rescue Secretariat’s New Initiatives Fund. The products are available at local outdoor adventure retail outlets or by ordering them online at http://www.avalanche.ca
As for snow predictions, Kelly is optimistic but cautious.
According to climate experts who gathered in Vancouver recently for the 14th annual Washington/Oregon Climate and Water Meeting, the winds and general drenching across much of the Columbia River Basin last week are likely just the start of a winter full of cold, most jet streams in this area.
“There are a number of opinions about Le Nina years,” said Kelly. “I’ve witnessed some that are great snow years, and some that are really disappointing.”
The signs this year, though, are good, said Kelly. The most statistically relevant tool the Canadian Avalanche Centre has found for predicting snow levels is by looking at Pacific Decadal Oscillation— a pattern of Pacific climate variability.
“It’s looking good,” said Kelly. “Broad scale climactic trends point in the direction of a cooler year with more snowfall and steady weather.”
Kelly explained that the steady weather in particular is good news for avalanche conditions because it means a more stable snowpack. Although the long term conditions look promising, Kelly emphasized that they can “ go awry at any point.”
By Nadine Sander-Green - Golden Star
Published: November 10, 2010 7:00 PM