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'Temper that powder enthusiasm': New snow creates unusual avalanche risk around South Coast, Sea to Sky

(iStock Photo)

All the new snow piling up on local mountains is prompting a warning about an unusual avalanche risk

Avalanche Canada says the early-season snowpack has caused a weak layer, making for unstable conditions

Unstable conditions along South Coast and Sea to Sky mountains has the potential to trigger larger-than-usual avalanches

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Back country skiers, boarders, and hikers are excited to see the snow finally start to pile up in the North Shore mountains and beyond, but all that fresh powder comes with a warning.

The thin, early-season snowpack has caused a weak layer. With all the new snow piling up on top, Colin Garrity with Avalanche Canada says it has made for unstable conditions, and the potential for larger than usual avalanches.

“That’s allowed for the creation of a really nasty, persistent weak layer that exists kind of in the middle of the snowpack right now,” he explains. “With the last pulse of snow that we got, we just started to see this layer start to wake up, and produce some avalanches that are quite concerning. Persistent-slab avalanches tend to be larger and can probably get quite a bit more widely than storm-slab avalanches.”

He says this is uncharacteristic for the Sea to Sky region, where the concern is normally with “direct-action” or “storm-influenced” avalanches.

“Coupled with the fact that we’re seeing, in the forecast, quite a bit of new snow on the way, that new snow is going to be incrementally loading and stressing that weak snowpack, and potentially causing increased chances of these large avalanches,” Garrity adds.

What the coast region is usually familiar with are “storm-slab avalanches,” which Garrity describes as happening when new snow falls, consolidates and stiffens up, before it “potentially develops a strong bond to the previous surface.”

These avalanches can be triggered by human activity, or even naturally.

Garrity says the Sea to Sky and South Coast regions are currently seeing an increasing avalanche danger. The danger rating for the Sea to Sky region is “moderate” at the moment, and increasing to “considerable” in the alpine in coming days.

“In the South Coast region, currently ‘moderate’ in the alpine, and increasing in danger as well,” Garrity explains. “The situation we’re dealing with is set to get a little bit worse before it gets better. Right now, we have some pretty tricky conditions that have kind of manifest themselves, particularly in the Sea to Sky region.”

While he understands that many people have the itch to get out into the backcountry, his message is to, “temper that powder enthusiasm.”

“It’s important to take the long view, at this point. We have a long season ahead of us, and we’re just starting to build a nice, kind of lower snowpack, so there’s no rush to get out there into the big terrain, and we’ve got a lot of time ahead of us.”

If you must be out, Garrity says to avoid avalanche terrain, and be prepared.

“This is actually a really great time to look at taking an avalanche skills training course. Really interesting snowpack to look at right now, as we can kind of attest to,” he says.

Of course, if you want to enjoy the outdoors, he says you can still do so in managed areas, like ski hills or through guided activities.

Garrity adds you should always carry the necessary gear if you plan on being in the outdoors, so consider picking up a transceiver, probe, and shovel, and make sure you know how to use each.

You can check the avalanche danger here.

-With files from Lauren Boothby