Alberta’s backcountry skiers need to be aware of weaker snowpack: experts

Click to play video: 'Avalanche risks ‘cause for concern’ across Western Canada'
Avalanche risks ‘cause for concern’ across Western Canada
WATCH: Mountain guides and avalanche forecasters are warning about considerable avalanche risks across Western Canada this winter. Some suggest it's the most hazardous snow pack they've seen in 20 or more years. Sarah Offin digs into what's being called a “persistent problem.” – Jan 10, 2023

Alberta’s backcountry enthusiasts are being asked to be aware of higher avalanche risks due to weaker snowpacks this year.

Alex Geary, a mountain guide based in Revelstoke, B.C., said he noticed thick layers of soft “sugary snow” below more rigid layers of snow this year.

These soft layers of snow are not normal for snowpacks in Western Canada.

Read more: B.C. warned of ‘considerable’ and ‘moderate’ avalanche risk early this week

“There’s more uncertainty in the snowpack this year, so we have to be really careful about our terrain choices,” Geary told Global News.

“Experienced professionals are saying (the snowpack) is similar to 2003 or even 1993 levels.”

Geary’s warning comes after a police constable from Nelson, B.C. was killed in an avalanche near B.C.’s West Kootenay region on Monday afternoon.

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Robert (Wade) Tittemore, 43, was identified as a victim of the avalanche by the City of Nelson, who also said he was a city police officer.

Read more: Police officer killed in avalanche near Kaslo, B.C. identified as 43-year-old constable

Tittemore and another police officer were on snowmobiles when the incident occurred, the Nelson Police Board said. The second officer, Mathieu Nolet, 28, was seriously injured in the avalanche and remains in a local hospital.

Earlier this month, Avalanche Canada extended a special avalanche warning to Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Jasper national parks due to storms and massive temperature swings across Western Canada.

Geary advised backcountry enthusiasts to stick to lower terrain and environments with thick trees.

Read more: Avalanche warnings expand into Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Jasper national parks

“Try to avoid really large, steep open terrain where you might be able to trigger that softer snow layer, so try to stick to lower-angle terrain,” Geary said.

“If you can ski comfortably through the trees, avalanches are possible. If you can’t, then it’s uncommon to have avalanches.”

Geary also advised backcountry skiers to know their capabilities and weaknesses.

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Read more: Backcountry skiers in Banff, Alta. rescued by Parks Canada

“We don’t want to try and impress our (friends)… It’s not the year for that,” he said.

“If someone’s already skied around where you’re planning to go, you might also make a decision to do that, but the terrain might be steeper and riskier.

“The snowpack is different this year and we need to be more conservative with our terrain choices.”

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