Series of large avalanches in Banff area a growing concern for Parks Canada

Click to play video: 'Parks Canada concerned with potential for avalanches in Banff area'
Parks Canada concerned with potential for avalanches in Banff area
WATCH: If you are heading to the mountains for some winter activities, you will want to be prepared. As Craig Momney reports, there are concerns current conditions and predicted snowfalls could trigger avalanche activity in the Banff area. – Dec 13, 2022

The potential for a series of large avalanches in the Banff area is a growing concern for Parks Canada.

According to Aaron Beardmore, a visitor safety specialist with Parks Canada, right now the mountains have a snow base made up of 20 centimetres of weak, sugary facets with about 60 centimetres of newer snow on top in the form of a slab.

He says due to “benign” weather conditions with very little wind, little snow and seasonal temperatures, there haven’t been many natural avalanches.

“There have been a few slightly smaller-in-size, human-triggered avalanches and when a human interacts with that, they’re triggering that slab sitting over top of that weak snow.”

Click to play video: 'Avalanche control remains top priority at southern Alberta ski resort'
Avalanche control remains top priority at southern Alberta ski resort

Beardmore’s major concern right now is if there was a significant snowfall in the Banff area which he believes could potentially trigger a widespread avalanche cycle.

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“We’re still somewhat early in the season — it’s not even Christmas yet. (We) got another three months of winter so it is gonna snow eventually, and when it does, we’ll be on high alert,” he said.

Parks Canada has partnered with Avalanche Canada to introduce a new public bulletin system on that can inform people of the changing conditions and potentials for an avalanche.

Read more: Avalanche Canada issues immediate warning for backcountry users in B.C., Alberta

According to Parks Canada, this will allow them to communicate avalanche conditions more effectively.

“The new software makes the forecasting piece for parks Canada forecasters much more efficient, up to date, contemporary — it’s great. Our forecasters are seeing improved efficiencies there,” said Beardmore.

Tyson Rettie, an avalanche forecaster with Avalanche Canada said this latest system will allow forecasters to tailor the forecast and data to the public on specific areas of a region rather than list the entire region itself with the same classification.

Click to play video: 'Winter hiking safety in the Canadian Rockies'
Winter hiking safety in the Canadian Rockies

“It allows us to just redraw the map on a daily basis to best present the messaging of any avalanche hazard to the public,” said Rettie.

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As of Tuesday evening, Banff and other southern parts of the Rocky Mountains were classified as considerable conditions due to the weak snow base on the mountain.

Rettie said this classification can be a challenging description of the current conditions because an avalanche may not be triggered in one area but could in another.

“It’s not as black and white as high or extreme or low. Actually, most avalanche fatalities in western Canada occur during the time of the considerable rating,” he added

Both Parks Canada and Avalanche Canada urge people to plan ahead and be prepared for anything before heading out to the mountains.

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