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'Could be deadly': Special avalanche warning issued for most of B.C.

B.C.'s biggest storm of the season brings dangerous and 'devastating potential consequences' for people entering the backcountry.
Avalanche danger rating map from Avalanche Canada for Feb. 29, 2024.

A special avalanche warning is in place for most of B.C. as human-triggered avalanches are expected.

Avalanche Canada, Parks Canada and the Province of B.C. issued a joint statement on Thursday after a recent storm brought a significant amount of snow to Western Canada. 

“This has been the biggest storm of the season, and we know backcountry users are eager to enjoy the snow,” says Avalanche Canada forecaster Tyson Rettie.

The warning is in place from now until March 4. 

“We’ve been tracking these weak layers closely over this past month,” says Rettie. “It’s vital to not underestimate the instability of these weak layers. Any avalanche triggered on them could be deadly.”

He tells Glacier Media those weak layers, covered by new snow, were established during drought conditions in February. In some areas, there is more than one weak layer.

"Although the new snow is appealing, making conservative terrain choices will be an important strategy for all backcountry users over the next few days,” says the national agency. 

As the storm passes, forecasters believe that natural avalanche activity will slow but human-triggered ones will still remain probable. 

Bowinn Ma, B.C.’s Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, is pleading with people to follow the guidance of Avalanche Canada during this time of heightened risk.

“Given the unpredictability of avalanches, and their devastating potential consequences, we’re urging everyone to stay safe by exercising caution and making informed decisions when planning a trip in the backcountry,” says Ma. 

Vancouver Island however, is under a 'considerable' danger rating from Avalanche Canada. New snow in this area of the province is expected to remain reactive to human triggers.

Highway closures due to snow

Snow caused chaos on many roads in B.C. this week, including the Coquihalla Highway. Access to the highway between Hope and Merritt was shut off Wednesday afternoon due to hazardous winter conditions. The road will reopen at noon on Thursday.

Environment Canada states 45 cm of snow fell on the Coquihalla Summit since the storm started on Tuesday evening. 

A planned closure is in place for the Trans-Canada Highway between Revelstoke and Golden for avalanche mitigation work and will remain until midday Thursday. 

More than 30 cm of snow fell overnight into Wednesday morning in Whistler.

Near miss with avalanches

Two touring groups in Rogers Pass had a near miss with an avalanche on Tuesday.

Eight skiers were in the area when the avalanche was triggered. One group ended up in the slide path. They were able to get to a safe location to avoid being hit.

The upper group called Parks Canada and alerted them of the event. This group deemed it too dangerous to go check on the lower group.

Parks Canada was able to fly the avalanche path and confirmed no one was involved.

Meanwhile, a pair of touring skiers were near Russet Lake in Whistler's backcountry on Tuesday when an avalanche was triggered.

One person got caught in the slide and was buried to their thighs and lost a ski and pole. They were able to get out safely.

For those heading out for recreation in the backcountry, Avalanche Canada says it's important to stick to lower-angle slopes, avoid overhead hazards, and choose smaller objectives that minimize the consequences of an avalanche.