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Tourists pose for photos outside the Jack Poole Plaza January 5, 2014. According to Environment Canada 30 to 50 mm of rain fell Sunday night and a further 15 to 30 mm can be expected by Monday evening.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The first major winter storm of the year has battered much of B.C. with rain and snow, leading Avalanche Canada to warn of extreme risk in some areas until Wednesday.

The Southern Interior saw as much as 50 centimetres of snowfall between Sunday and Monday, leading many school districts to cancel the first day of classes after the holidays. It was the first time in 35 years that the Central Okanagan School District was forced to close its schools due to snow.

"They normally keep the schools open, but had to bow to Mother Nature today," said D'Arcy McLeod in Salmon Arm. The retired schoolteacher could recall only a handful of school closings in his 30-plus years as a teacher there.

In Kelowna, heavy snow on Highway 97 – a major artery through the city – made it impossible for Braden McMillan to drive his girlfriend to class at University of British Columbia Okanagan. He had to turn around in snow that reached his car's bumper. Classes were later cancelled at the university.

"It's wild. … I'm from Saskatchewan and this is something I would see there," said Mr. McMillan, adding he had never seen as much snow in his nine years living in Kelowna.

Lisa Coldwells, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said the heavy snowfall was the result of two weather systems "battling it out."

The first was a slow-moving system bringing moist air from the Pacific Ocean. It was the same system that brought heavy rain to much of the Lower Mainland and freezing rain to the eastern Fraser Valley, leaving more than 10,000 people without power.

When that system met cold, Arctic air moving south from the Yukon, it resulted in the heavy snow that hit the Southern Interior.

The system was expected to continue moving east overnight, according to Ms. Coldwells, ending the rain and snow and bringing warmer temperatures on Tuesday.

But as the system moves on, it will leave behind very unstable conditions in the mountains for the next few days. Avalanche Canada is warning of high avalanche danger in the Kootenay Boundary until Wednesday.

The warming weather will cause snow to be released with the potential for big avalanches, according to James Floyer, a senior avalanche forecaster with the agency. Avalanches of that size are "difficult to survive or even unsurvivable," he said.

Avalanche Canada is advising people to stay out of avalanche terrain and, so far, it appears people are heeding that advice. The province has not yet had an avalanche fatality this season.

In the North Shore Mountains, the avalanche danger was expected to stabilize fairly quickly, with it forecast to return to low by Wednesday.

The rain in Vancouver had been falling as snow on Grouse Mountain since Sunday, providing much-needed relief to a slow start to the ski season. More than 34 centimetres have fallen since Sunday, allowing for the opening of two terrain parks. Staff were hoping to continue their snow-making efforts in the coming days.