Avalanche risk ‘high’ in B.C. South Coast after new snow

The avalanche risk is up across B.C.’s South Coast.

Avalanche Canada says the danger rating in the alpine, treeline, and below treeline is “high” Wednesday, with only minor changes to the risk expected later this week.

The areas this applies to include Whistler, the North Shore mountains, and everything in between.

“We’ve had a fairly significant storm impacting the coast for at least the last 24 hours. That weather has been making its way inland and will have a significant impact on the interior mountains today, tonight, and will kind of taper off tomorrow. So that’s been the big driver in bumping the avalanche hazard up to high for many regions,” Tyson Rettie, an avalanche forecaster with Avalanche Canada, explained Wednesday.

“There is another component to this: when it says an undesirable upper snowpack, there’s a fairly significant crust that was formed at the end of January and buried in early February that’s been producing some fairly spooky human and remotely triggered avalanches throughout the coast and the interior.”

During a “high” rating, Avalanche Canada says natural avalanches are “likely, while human-triggered slides are “very likely.”

Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended during this time, with the agency saying it is “confident the likelihood of avalanches will increase with the arrival of the forecasted weather.”

A “high” rating is the second most dangerous level assigned by Avalanche Canada, only preceding “extreme,” at which point all avalanche terrain should be avoided.

He explains the forecast is specifically to avalanche terrain in the backcountry. He notes when you’re inbound at a ski resort, that risk is generally managed by resorts and there are plenty of areas in the North Shore mountains for backcountry recreation without being in avalanche terrain.

“However, if you’re not able to reliably identify avalanche terrain, it’s not something you’re really familiar with, then I’d say it would be a good idea to avoid the backcountry. But if you’re feeling good about your ability to identify avalanche terrain, there’s plenty of places to recreate safely, you just need to stay out of avalanche terrain right now,” Rettie told CityNews.

“Outside the resort boundary, high hazard right now for the whole South Coast area. That crust that I had mentioned that is a concerning weak layer, once you get kind of outside the North Shore and into the Sea to Sky mountains, toward the Duffy, Coquihalla, that’s where that crust really comes into play.”

Locally, Rettie says the hazard is driven by new precipitation and snow, and less by a weak crust on the snow.

The avalanche danger rating around the B.C. South Coast for Wednesday, Feb. 28 to Friday, March 1, 2024
The avalanche danger rating around the B.C. South Coast for Wednesday, Feb. 28 to Friday, March 1, 2024. (Courtesy Avalanche Canada)

The avalanche risk is also affecting some of the interior highways. DriveBC says Highway 1 is closed in both directions between Revelstoke and Golden due to the risk of a slide.

No detour is available, with DriveBC saying the highway is expected to reopen Thursday afternoon.

B.C. has seen some warmer-than-usual weather this winter, with records broken throughout January.

The mild season has also brought some cooler days and snow, with Tuesday seeing some flurries in parts and rain elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the seasonal outlook for spring points to warmer- and drier-than-normal conditions ahead.

Listen to CityNews 1130 for weather updates every 10 minutes after traffic on the ones.

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