January 4, 2019 9:52 am
Updated: January 5, 2019 7:10 pm

Winter storm, avalanche warnings issued for Rockies

WATCH ABOVE: Heavy snow and dangerous avalanche conditions have led to travel advisories in the Alberta mountain parks Friday.

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High wind and heavy snowfall warnings in effect across western Alberta and into British Columbia were prompting officials to ask motorists to be prepared or to delay travel heading into the weekend.

Snowfall warning

Environment Canada issued heavy snowfall warnings for Banff and Jasper national parks Friday, where between 40 and 60 centimetres of snow was expected.

Watch below: (From Jan. 4, 2019) Jasper National Park is under a winter storm warning and as Julia Wong reports, the avalanche risk is extreme.


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The Icefields Parkway was closed for avalanche control on Thursday.

“A strong southwesterly flow over the mountains will bring near 60 cm of snow to sections of the Icefields Parkway,” Environment Canada said in an update Friday morning.

“A further 10 to 20 cm of snow is expected to fall [Friday,] before conditions improve overnight.”

READ MORE: Environment Canada issues snowfall warning for Jasper and Banff

Snowfall warnings were also issued for west, north and east of Edmonton late Friday morning.

Environment Canada said a band of snow over central Alberta would give accumulations near 10 cm, before the snow weakened Friday afternoon. The Fort Saskatchewan area was expected to see upwards of 35 cm of snow, the weather agency said.

By 5:15 p.m. Friday, the warnings in this area were dropped.

READ MORE: Weather warnings in effect as parts of B.C. brace for wind, snow and rain 

Avalanche warning

Heavy snowfall, warm temperatures and high winds have led to an extreme avalanche risk in Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Jasper national parks.

The daily avalanche bulletin for the mountain parks in Alberta and B.C. said they had received between 25 and 45 centimetres of snow in the past few days and it’s overloading a weak layer from mid-December.

On Friday afternoon, Whistler RCMP confirmed a 42-year-old Squamish man died after being buried by an avalanche near Pemberton on Thursday.

Officials said the danger rating forecast for Friday was extreme, which means people should avoid all avalanche terrain because natural and human-triggered avalanches are certain.

WATCH: B.C. highway crews conduct a controlled explosion and avalanche

Another 25 to 70 centimetres of snow is expected across the region before the storm ends Friday night. They said it’s creating the “perfect recipe for large avalanches stepping down into our persistent weak layers.”

Avalanche crews busy

Steve Blake, avalanche specialist with Parks Canada in Jasper National Park, said avalanche control teams have been busy because of the recent snowfall.

“They get off on the road on skis to assess how much snow has fallen and how that snow is reacting in the mountain environment there just to forecast what the avalanche potential will be,” he said.

More controlled avalanches are expected in the Jasper area Saturday, when weather conditions improve.

“I would expect when our crews get out [Saturday] they’ll be seeing between 20 and 60 avalanches that they will trigger themselves,” Blake said.

With natural avalanches inevitable within the park, Parks Canada is not recommending any recreation in the mountains while the danger is extreme; outdoor enthusiasts are asked to stay within ski resorts and on Parks Canada groomed trails.

WATCH: Avalanche risk extreme in parts of Alberta back country.

The Icefields Parkway will be closed 110 km south of Jasper to Saskatchewan River Crossing for avalanche control until Sunday afternoon.

It isn’t all bad news though; some ski resorts are seeing more people on the hills. Brian Rode, vice-president of marketing and sales for Marmot Basin, said approximately 30 cm of snow had fallen on the ski hill as of Friday morning.

“Conditions are fabulous. People are loving it. It’s busy. It’s been a tremendous holiday period,” he said.

Rode said the ski resort does avalanche control every day, adding activity increases during periods of heavy snowfall.

“You can be assured you’ll be safe as long as you stay on the designated trails and don’t duck under a rope,” he said.

Rode said there had been two deliberate incidents so far this season where people had gone out of bounds on the ski hill and required help from avalanche teams to get out.

“[In one incident,] the avalanche team had to go in there and extract him. Part of extracting him was to go up to the top, get him to a safe spot then they had to bomb that whole area to try and stabilize it. Then they had to traverse out one at a time to get this guy out safely,” he said.

Alexandra Messinis, co-owner of Edmonton’s Sundance Ski Shop, said business has been brisk because of the recent snowfall, adding the avalanche warning is not tempering enthusiasm.

“I would say most backcountry users are very excited to get out there. Most of them, I think, are hopefully being very conservative and not skiing in avalanche terrain because there’s high risks out there right now,” she said.

Messinis also said there has been more interest in avalanche gear this year, noting that prices have come down from years past.

“I would say even two times more than last year. [It’s] a significant upgrade to last year,” she said.

WATCH BELOW: A heavy snowfall created some difficult driving conditions in the Rocky Mountains on both sides of the Alberta-BC border on Thursday, Jan. 3. Adam MacVicar has the details.

Avalanche Canada said also heavy snow has created a high possibility of slides on south coast and Vancouver Island mountains, as well as through most of east-central and southeastern B.C., meaning very dangerous avalanche conditions exist throughout Alberta and B.C.

Wind warning

Wind warnings were in place for southwestern Alberta where the Transportation Ministry noted that winds were gusting up to 160 kilometres an hour.

“Winds are expected to move though the Calgary area late [Friday] morning to early afternoon, with wind gusts likely to reach 90 km/h, before weakening later in the afternoon,” Environment Canada said.

READ MORE: ‘Dangerous wind gusts’ as strong as 120 km/h expected in southern Alberta

RCMP and provincial officials suggested postponing non-essential travel until conditions improve.

Police set up checkstops in southern Alberta to advise larger, light commercial and recreation vehicles not to travel on Highway 22 and Highway 3.

On Friday night, Environment Canada lifted all wind warnings that had been in effect in southern Alberta.

READ MORE: Smoke, snow, and the hottest day ever: Calgary’s top 5 weather stories of 2018

For a complete list of weather warnings, watches and advisories in Alberta, click here.

WATCH: Backcountry enthusiasts warned about extreme avalanche danger in B.C., Alta. Mountains

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with files from Julia Wong

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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