March might signal the end of winter, but the backcountry’s alpine areas are still seeing a considerable avalanche risk that experts call “dangerous.”
Avalanche Canada took over forecasting for Vancouver Island two years ago, and a team of forecasters and technicians based in Campbell River make regular treks into the alpine areas to assess conditions.
“Every four out of six or seven days, we head into the mountains, so we keep our fingers on the pulse of the conditions here on the Island,” said Colin Garritty, Avalanche Canada forecaster and lead technician for Vancouver Island.
It’s already been a deadly year for avalanche fatalities in B.C., with 12 people dying in the interior since January. Ten is the yearly average.
There has never been a recorded avalanche death on the Island, even though big slides can and do happen here.
Currently, anywhere above 900 metres is particularly dangerous, and the North Island, in particular, has a weak layer in the snow that experts are keeping a close eye on.
“We have up to 80 centimetres of snow in more wind-loaded areas sitting on that crust, and somebody able to trigger an 80-centimetre slab on a slippery crust can produce an avalanche that can certainly bury or injure or kill somebody,” said Garritty.
He adds that most people caught in avalanches set it off themselves, or someone in their group did.
It’s something Jonathon Legare of Comox is well aware of whenever he heads out on his snowmobile.
“You need to have all the essentials, the shovel, the probe and your beacon,” said Legare, wearing an airbag knapsack as he unloaded his snowmobile on Mount Washington.
“How often do you think about avalanche conditions before you head out?” he was asked. “Every ride. Every ride, you need to think about this because it can happen at any time.”
You can follow the Avalanche Canada Vancouver Island team on Instagram.