Expert warns conditions are prime for avalanches in B.C. backcountry

TRAIL, B.C. — Several B.C. ski resorts, including Whistler, Sun Peaks and Big White, will kick off the 2009/2010 snow season this weekend and following one of the deadliest avalanche years on record, the Canadian Avalanche Centre is warning the snow-going public to be prepared.

TRAIL, B.C. — Several B.C. ski resorts, including Whistler, Sun Peaks and Big White, will kick off the 2009/2010 snow season this weekend and following one of the deadliest avalanche years on record, the Canadian Avalanche Centre is warning the snow-going public to be prepared.

Karl Klassen, a forecaster with the avalanche centre, said 150 centimetres of snow is already blanketing parts of southeastern B.C.

Ski resorts are not lacking in fresh powder, either, with Kamloops’ Sun Peaks counting a snow base of 70 centimetres and Kelowna’s Big White 65 centimetres. Whistler has a base of 100 centimetres and expects another 65 centimetres of snow by the time the season kicks off on Saturday.

The avalanche centre recorded twenty-four avalanche-related deaths in Western Canada last year. Most of them were in B.C., and Klassen said some outdoor enthusiasts have already been trapped this year.

“Nobody’s been fully buried but people have been taken for rides. There have been injuries, all of them minor so far, thank goodness,” Klassen said.

“Certainly, above tree-line we’ve got enough snow for avalanches to occur.”

Klassen said early snowfalls on smooth, grassy or shale slopes are especially prone to sliding and he said it’s a good idea for skiers and snowboarders to stay in bounds.

Last December, eight snowmobilers were swept to their deaths by an avalanche in the southeastern B.C. community of Sparwood.

The deceased were part of a group of 11 snowmobilers that was hit by repeated slides up to five metres in height.

Whistler recorded two avalanche fatalities less than 24 hours apart, with a skier being buried by an avalanche on New Year’s Eve and a snowboarder being killed on New Year’s Day.

Avalanche reports became a near-daily occurrence in B.C., with some expressing shock that brazen skiers and snowboarders would continue to venture out of bounds.

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