Weak B.C. snowpack pushes risk of avalanche to highest in two decades

Click to play video: 'Risk of deadly avalanche at 20-year high in B.C.'
Risk of deadly avalanche at 20-year high in B.C.
It's been a deadly start to the new year in B.C.'s back country, after avalanches have claimed the lives of five people in less than a month. A stretch of cold, dry weather back in November has made for an unstable snowpack throughout parts of the province, pushing the risk of a deadly avalanche to the highest it's been in two decades. Jayden Wasney reports. – Jan 29, 2023

A weak, and unpredictable snowpack caused by cold, dry conditions back in November has pushed the risk of a deadly avalanche to a 20-year high in B.C.

“Many avalanche professionals have been comparing it to 2003. That was one of the most dangerous years for avalanche accidents on record. We had 29 avalanche fatalities that year,” said Tyson Rettie, Avalanche Canada forecaster.

“There are several layers of concern in the snowpack, but the most concerning right now is a deeply buried weak layer that formed in late November, where in some places it is buried by as much as three and a half metres of snow.

Avalanche season in B.C. is off to a deadly start, claiming five lives in less than a month. Among those deceased are Const. Wade Tittemore and Const. Mattieu Nolet, two off-duty police officers who died after a slide on Jan. 9 near Kaslo, B.C.

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“The challenging snowpack presents very difficult decision-making for both recreationists and professionals,” Rettie said.

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David Stark, director of risk management at Yamnuska Mountain Adventure in Canmore, Alta., said he and his team teach an annual avalanche safety course to roughly 800 backcountry users, but this year, he worries the safety training may not be enough.

“I haven’t seen this for a long time, so we’re all quite worried about it and we’re all paying attention to the avalanche conditions, trying to be careful,” Stark said.

“When we go out, we’re watching those layers and making sure we’re not triggering them. So, we’re dialling back the terrain, keeping it at a lower angle, and paying attention to the snowpack and where we are.”

According to one expert, he expects these dangerous conditions to stick around for the foreseeable future.

“This winter is shaping up to be a winter where we have long-term weaknesses in the snowpack that probably won’t heal or disappear in a quick fashion,” said Brian Webster, visitor safety manager of Park Canada.

“It’s 100 per cent related to the weather patterns.”

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Webster said that those using the backcountry will need to adjust their approach, as this year is unlike recent years.

“This is not the year to be skiing aggressively or skiing those big lines. It’s the year to be conservative, because it’s going to be like this all winter,” Webster said.

The tragic start to 2023 has prompted a warning from Rettie, in hopes of providing backcountry enthusiasts with life-saving information.

“The areas with greater hazard are the Cariboo range, Northern Monashee and parts of the Northern Rockies as well,” Rettie said.

“Get the training, have a process when you go out, pay attention to what Avalanche Canada says, read the bulletins and then dial back on the terrain.”

For more information on avalanches in Canada, visit

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