An avalanche warning for most of B.C.’s mountainous regions could remain in effect for weeks – and the season, which so far has had as many fatalities as all of last year, threatens to get worse.
A slide over the weekend in the province’s West Kootenay region killed one person and seriously injured a second, and avalanche conditions will prompt another shutdown of the Coquihalla Highway on Tuesday.
“It’s a dangerous time right now,” James Floyer, a forecaster with the Canadian Avalanche Centre, said in an interview on Monday. “Those land mines are still out there, they’re still poised for human triggering. Really, the only good way of dealing with this is to be diligent in avoiding aggressive avalanche terrain.”
The avalanche centre last week issued a special warning for all B.C. regions except the North Shore. It said an extended dry period had left snowpacks in very poor shape, with new snow sitting on top of very weak layers.
Mr. Floyer said the warning was supposed to remain in effect until Wednesday, but he expects it to be extended.
“I don’t see this problem going away any time soon. I think it’s going to be with us for some time. It’s difficult to know exactly how the weather’s going to pan out and the conditions will change, but two or three weeks is quite reasonable, and we may be looking at more than that,” he said.
Mr. Floyer said conditions in the West Kootenay region, where Sunday’s fatal slide occurred, are similar to those in much of the province.
RCMP and Nelson Search and Rescue responded to the slide at Kootenay Pass at approximately 1 p.m., after a report two skiers had been caught.
Chris Armstrong of Nelson Search and Rescue said two members of the group who were not trapped by the slide skied to a nearby highway to call for help.
“We ended up calling in four [search and rescue] teams from the area and had a total of 26 people do a seven-and-a half-hour evacuation of the female that was injured,” Mr. Armstrong said.
“It was incredibly arduous and very physical to evacuate her from that terrain.”
Mr. Armstrong described the slide as “destructive” and said it carried the two individuals over a cliff face and down through old-growth forest.
An RCMP spokesman said in a statement that a 27-year-old woman was transported to hospital in serious condition.
A 27-year-old man died at the avalanche scene. All four skiers were from the Nelson area.
“As the avalanche risk is very high in this area,” the statement read, “police are advising to stay out of the back country.”
Mr. Floyer said five people have been killed in avalanches this season, matching last winter’s total. He said avalanche season typically runs until mid-April.
The numbers are a far cry, however, from some of B.C.’s more treacherous years. The province has generally averaged about 14 avalanche deaths per year. In 2008-09, there were 24 people killed, 19 of them snowmobilers.
“The last couple of seasons have been good, and I think that in some ways reflects people’s [improved] behaviour, and some of the messaging we do from our centre here,” Mr. Floyer said.
The province announced on Monday that the Coquihalla Highway, which was closed between Hope and Merritt from Thursday until Saturday due to the high avalanche risk, will again be closed on Tuesday.
The Ministry of Transportation said in a statement that avalanche control work must be done because high winds and new snow have continued to fill the avalanche paths.
“This planned closure will allow crews to conduct helicopter avalanche control to reduce the snowpack in avalanche paths and then clean up any deposits that reach the highway,” the statement read.
The province on Monday also introduced the Off Road Vehicle Act to replace the 40-year-old Motor Vehicle (All Terrain) Act. The new act will, among other things, allow the development of rules and regulations for snowmobile use.
With a report from The Canadian Press