An Avalanche of Information on Winter Safety

avalanche-day-signAvalanche Awareness Day is a national celebration of Canada’s avalanche safety expertise. Each year Alberta Parks hosts this event in Kananaskis Country.

Alberta Avalanche Actualities

There are an average of 15 to 20 “avalanche involvements” reported to Alberta Parks every season. An “avalanche involvement” may include a person(s) caught and buried (or partially buried) in an avalanche that is either injured or uninjured. However, we suspect that many more avalanche involvements occur each year that go unreported. Our staff perform avalanche control using explosives to mitigate avalanche risk to the highways within the Kananaskis Region. This occurs an average of 3 to 4 times per season. Continue reading

Snow Study: Staying Safe in Avalanche Country

A small group is gathered around Public Safety Specialist Matt Mueller at the end of a day of Level One Avalanche Skills Training. He’s just demonstrated a “compression test” – cutting a column of snow to check the density of each layer: in this case loose, sugary crumbs underneath a solid cap of wind-packed crust. After explaining to us how easily snow like this can loosen and slide downhill, he lifts up the column – about 70 cm high and 30 cm square – and passes it around, a chunk of snow so heavy that one of the group staggers under its weight and falls over.

Demonstrating a compression test at Avalanche Awareness Day in 2014. Photo: Catharine Findlay.

Demonstrating a compression test at Avalanche Awareness Day in 2014. Photo: Catharine Findlay.

What does Matt and his group have to do with avalanche safety in our mountain parks? The first thing this demonstration drives home is that snow is heavier than you might think. “Imagine a whole slope of this coming down on top of you,” Mueller says. Second, there are many ways to learn more, be the most informed you can to keep yourself safer when you’re venturing into the backcountry in winter. Continue reading

Spring hazards: Have fun and stay safe during seasonal adventure

Rawson Lake Slide from SE corner_DuaneF

Watch for late-season slides at Rawson Lake and many other popular Kananaskis Country trails. Photo: Duane Fizor.

It may seem counter-intuitive to have to think about bears and avalanche at the same time while exploring the outdoors, but that’s the beauty of adventuring in the Canadian Rockies in spring. Snow can linger in the mountains late into the spring and early summer, but when it’s warm and sunny out, and everything is starting to melt, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security: summer is on its way, so we can forget about winter safety hazards, right? Unfortunately, no.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re out there before the snow goes:

Avalanche

Some of the most popular snowshoe and winter hiking trails in Kananaskis Country, even ones that are easily accessible from parking lots and highways, travel through or end in avalanche terrain. Our public safety staff in Kananaskis Region note that as snowshoeing becomes more popular, snowshoers are often venturing into avalanche risk without the proper gear or knowledge.

Check the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) ratings of the area you plan to hike or snowshoe (or ski), and note that anything rated as Simple terrain still has avalanche exposure risk. “The spring snow sport season in the Rockies runs from late March to early May, and very large ‘climax’ avalanches are more common during those months,” says Kananaskis Public Safety Specialist Jeremy Mackenzie, of avalanches that slide after a slow buildup over time. “These slides often reach the valley floor, with the potential to impact Simple terrain.”   Continue reading