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Avalanche hazard high in Banff, Kananaskis Country

‘It's going to get more hazardous and so widespread natural and human-triggered avalanches are very likely, almost certain."

Public safety experts are warning of extremely dangerous avalanche conditions in Banff National Park over the coming days.

Lisa Paulson, a visitor safety specialist for Parks Canada, said the biggest snowstorms of the season are here, along with touchy avalanche conditions.

‘It's going to get more hazardous and so widespread natural and human-triggered avalanches are very likely, almost certain,” she said.

“Now is a good time to stay out of avalanche terrain and enjoy the new snow in simple terrain or at the local ski hills.”

A winter storm is expected to start Wednesday, which Paulson said could bring anywhere from 35 to 55 cm on an already unstable snow base, and high winds, over the coming days.

She said a snow dump last weekend and more snow on the way this week will likely draw more people wanting to get out into the backcountry.

“It might lure some to maybe step outside of the ski area boundary, or people who might be a little unaware of how touchy the layering is,” she said.

“That unaware snowshoer, cross-country skier venturing off designated trails concern me.”

In Banff National Park, the avalanche rating is high for Wednesday (Feb. 28) in the alpine and treeline and considerable below treeline.

By Thursday (Feb. 29) and Friday (March 1), it is high at all elevations, except dropping to considerable below treeline on Friday.

As for Kananaskis County, the hazard is high in the alpine and considerable at treeline and below treeline Wednesday. The hazard remains high in both alpine and tree-line on Thursday before dropping to considerable on Friday.

The Canmore Hill from the Canmore Nordic Centre to the Goat Creek parking lot will be closed at 1 p.m. on Wednesday (Feb. 28) for avalanche control bombing.

There have been several reports over the past few days of natural slides plus skier and climber-triggered avalanches to size 3, a rating that means it could bury and destroy a car, damage a truck, destroy a small building, or break a few trees.

According to Avalanche Canada’s Mountain Information Network (MIN), two people were buried up to their shoulders on Mount Whymper while the other two in the group managed to stay on top of the slide on the weekend.

Paulson said several avalanches are failing on the Feb. 3 crust down 50-60 centimetres and some step down to weaker layers and will get even worse in the coming days.

She said the two skiers had a narrow escape and thanked the group for reporting the incident on MIN.

“I really commend them for sharing because this is tremendously valuable information to the entire public and the forecasters,” she said.

On their way up the north bowl of Mount Whymper, the reporting person said they noticed a variety of snow textures from crust, to isolated loaded patches and stale facets, but eventually decided to turn back because visibility was getting bad.

To avoid dipping into the lowest part of the plateau, they contoured around to the bottom of the east moraine, and almost immediately noticed a change in snow sound and texture.

“We made a quick adjustment but at that moment we popped a large slide above us,” the reporting person wrote on MIN.

Parks Canada was doing avalanche work on Mount Whymper on Tuesday to protect Highway 93 South, which produced size 2 and 3 avalanches with every shot, and occasionally running all the way to the ground.

“We are keeping an eye on the other paths throughout the parks and region,” said Paulson.

“I would expect over the next few days to pay attention to drive BC and Alberta 511 because there’s going to be closures related to avalanche control through this period.”



Cathy Ellis

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