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Backcountry Climbing Mountain Culture Mountaineering News

Beware the Dragon – December Crust

Yet another atmospheric river!😒

The tail end of 2021 and the first couple of weeks of 2022 were dominated by colder temperatures and frequent snowstorms across most of BC. The early December crust that was formed after a series of atmospheric rivers at the end of November is now found anywhere from about 100 to 200cm down in the snowpack across most regions. Natural and skier triggered activity has been sporadic on this layer, creating a low probability/high consequence avalanche hazard which makes it tricky to manage our risk.

Looking ahead to this week we are yet again facing another warm atmospheric river making landfall on Tuesday and Wednesday with rising freezing levels and high levels of either rain or snowfall. We can anticipate having our persistent slab problem wake up in many areas creating a widespread cycle of large avalanches during this storm.

If you venture out into avalanche terrain over the next few days, it will be extremely important to choose your terrain carefully and manage your exposure to large overhead hazards. Also keep in mind the potential to trigger storm slab avalanches that could act as a step-down trigger and wake up the sleeping dragon that is the early December crust.

Know Before You Go
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Backcountry Climbing Mountain Culture Mountaineering News

Snowpack Update

Impact of Rain and High Freezing Levels

As we move into December it is worth doing a quick summary of what the snowpack currently like, after a very stormy but mild November. This last week saw yet another series of atmospheric rivers crash into BC which pushed the freezing levels up to around 2000-2200 meters, depending on where in BC you are located. A large avalanche cycle followed suit with multiple forecast regions reporting large slides running full path into valley bottom. As the weather now returns to more seasonally normal temperatures it is safe to say that BTL and TL elevations will have a significant rain crust that will taper off as you transition into the alpine. There is significant variability in snowpack depth with alpine elevations sitting anywhere from 1.5 to 2 meters of snow while lower elevations are below threshold in some places as the warm temperatures and significant rainfall have melted away much of the early snowpack. 😞

Until the lower elevations recover with more snow it will probably not offer much good skiing and in the alpine you will have to navigate wind slabs and watch for further wind loading as the next set of weather systems shifts to a more northwesterly flow.

Avalanche Canada is now up and running with forecasts for all regions. Make sure to check your local forecast as well as any MIN reports that refer to the area around your riding destination.

Awesome AST 1 Crew
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Backcountry Climbing Mountain Culture Mountaineering News

Atmospheric River

BC Snowpack Reset?

Our thoughts and concerns are with anybody who has been directly affected by the recent unprecedented weather event. Thanks to members of SAR, BCAS, PEP, RCMP and other individuals for their amazing efforts while helping others in need.
Backcountry enthusiasts should also consider what the “atmospheric river” may have done to our early season snowpack. Regions of BC received over 200 millimetres of rain in a scant 48 hours. In some mountainous areas freezing levels rose well above mountain tops. Many alpine areas have likely seen a significant snowpack reset. When that much rapid loading (precipitation) is combined with high freezing levels, any concerning weak layers have likely been flushed out with a major avalanche cycle during the storm.
Constant rain at elevation will have also have saturated the snowpack, then refrozen it to the point that we can now effectively consider that the new baseline when tracking the snowpack.

Colliding paths? Where is our snowpack heading
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Backcountry Climbing Mountain Culture Mountaineering News

Return of La Niña!

Check out the cross-loaded features

The cold and wet fall weather certainly has kick-started the ski season for many folks out there. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) we have now officially entered a La Niña phase for our second winter season in a row. La Niña years tend to give Western Canada a winter with below average temperatures and above average precipitation amounts. HALLELUJAH!

So far it seems as though Ullr agrees with the weather models and there are lots of social media and MIN reports out there confirming that we indeed have quite the early season snowpack setting up. At least for certain elevation bands. So, as you dust off your skis and avalanche safety equipment and brainstorm excuses to get out of class early or take a COVID-work-from-home day to snag some November turns… Here are some things you should keep in mind when you head out the door.

Early touring high in the alpine

If there is enough snow to ride it’s also enough to slide. Early season skiing is a fickle thing. You will spend most of your day touring up through BTL and TL elevations with snow levels barely at, or even below, threshold for avalanches and yet as you gain elevation and start poking into those upper treeline or alpine zones you will have to stay vigilant. Up high you could very well have a snowpack of a meter or meter and a half plus whatever the wind has deposited in lee features. You are going to have to make sure you re-evaluate as you go along and travel through these drastic spatial variabilities in snowpack depth.

If you do go out for some skiing, this is a great time to start collecting first-hand information about the snowpack. Any snow profile you dig right now will be quick and easy as there just isn’t that much snow yet. Now you can start tracking those early season melt-freeze crusts (Hello Nov 4th) which will be good to know going forward.

Gathering info on the snowpack

Post MIN reports to Avalanche Canada. As many guiding operations and ski hills have yet to fire up for the season this is a great time to help everyone out by giving Avalanche Canada as much information as possible. No matter your experience level, if you go out and dig in the snow or ski (or both), take pictures, take notes, and share them!

Take it easy. Remember, it’s only the second week of November. You have a full 5-6 months of skiing ahead of you if you are lucky. No need to risk a season-ending injury on day 2. So, watch out for those barely hidden stumps and rocks, keep it simple and enjoy the process of building up to a season full of fun and safe ski days! Also a good time to brush up on your companion rescue skills.

Companion Rescue Practice
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Avalanche Training Backcountry Mountain Culture Mountaineering News Ski Touring Uncategorized

Early Season Snowpack?

Fully developed snowpack, the base is being laid right now

The first official day of fall has just past and that means our days will start to get noticeably shorter and darker as we get closer to winter and the riding season. This weekend we expect an early season snowfall in most of the mountain regions across the province, with some areas receiving as much as 25-30 centimeters. If you’re a backcountry skier/snowboarder or snowshoer, this is the time to start paying attention to what is going on.

What should we make of the early snowfall? It certainly throws a wrench into the works for folks who were still hoping to get a few alpine hikes and mountain bike rides in, while others will be celebrating Ullr’s early arrival and the promise of a great winter season.

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Linus cruising some nice Coquihalla powder last winter

From an avalanche forecasting perspective, it means we should start to keep track of what happens next because there are a few different ways in which this snowfall could become problematic later this winter. The biggest problem with early season snowfall is that it is a (very) thin snowpack which is susceptible to either melting or weakening – or both.

If the temperatures stay cold and dry, we will see this thin snowpack start to become weaker as the snow starts to facet. With time the snow will consist primarily of large-grained facets. This will then sit at the base of the snowpack and once more snow arrives it becomes depth hoar. These types of layers take a long time to heal and sometimes never fully recover and are with us for the rest of the winter.

Very mature surface hoar

However, if we get a longer stretch of nice, warm and sunny fall weather, the early season snow will melt down to bare ground. It melts faster on sunny aspects but depending on freezing levels and temperatures even shaded aspects could be back down to bare ground. From an avalanche perspective this is probably our best scenario because it means that once the proper winter snowfall arrives, it will fall on bare ground.

If we get a bit of both we could end up with a melt-freeze crust above a weak layer of facets that then becomes buried by our winter snowpack. This in turn may mean ongoing persistent slab problems and eventually deep persistent slab problems. Not good. Luckily it is still only October so there is a reasonable chance we still have another warm spell or two before winter really sets in.

So what can we do from now until the start of winter? Mainly, we should monitor the snowpack and the weather. Keep track of the distribution of any potential future weak layers by keeping tabs on what elevation the snowline stays at and what the snow coverage is like on the different aspects as we get closer to winter. This will help you eliminate elevation bands and aspects that don’t have any snow left on it and shouldn’t be a concern for these particular problem layers going forward. Checking out webcams from highway passes and weather stations to gauge how warm it gets up in the alpine are some of the tools available to us from a distance.

In the meantime, this is a great time of year to take out your winter equipment and give it a once-over, double-check that your transceiver is functioning properly and that everything else is good to go. Industry professionals continue to work on their rescue skills year after year and run scenarios at the beginning of each season. Get outside and practice with your friends and touring partners to make sure everyone remembers what to do in case of an avalanche incident. No time like the present!

Why most of us do this.
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Backcountry Climbing Mountain Culture Mountaineering News

Summer Trips – 2021

Stevan enjoying a warm, calm day on the Klanawa River

In mid-September, 4 of us ventured out to the West Coast Trail. We had sunshine, heavy rain, a bit of everything. While there were many amazing vistas, the condition of the trail and the amount of trash at most of the campsites was definitely a concern. I hope that Parks Canada will be able to allocate some resources needed to add some badly needed trail maintenance.

Early snow at GAH’s Sunrise Lodge

In late August / early September, a group of 9 friends really enjoyed a 5-day, hut-to-hut trip through the Esplanade range of the Selkirk Mountains. Mother Nature provided us with nearly every kind of weather, but very few bugs. To quote Kathy, “it was a trip of a lifetime“.

Classic ridge traverse in the Holliday Range of the Canadian Rockies

Five locals from Tete Jaune were kind enough to share a bit of their paradise with us in mid-August. The picture above sums it up, we were ably to basically travel on the ridge as far you can see. Amazing multi-day backpacking trip.

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Avalanche Training Backcountry Mountain Culture Mountaineering News Ski Touring Uncategorized

Busy AST Season

We are well on our way through a very busy Avalanche Skills Training season. Subscription to all courses, AST 1 & 2, as well as CRS has been brisk. Conditions have been generally good, quite mild(until now) for most of the winter.

Perfect ski touring conditions
Thank you so much again for the amazing course. I learned so much from you guys, can’t wait to put those skills to use in the backcountry.” Jessica

We had amazing conditions in the Coquihalla for our AST 2 course this past weekend, over 100cms of storm snow, very light winds and moderate temps. Snowpack was a bit spicy, had to select conservative terrain.

You will definitely see me on another course next year with you. Thx. Amanda

I was surprised, given the dodgey road conditions, how many folks actually ventured out to the Coquihalla on the weekend. Avalanche Canada’s MIN report was lit up. Ride safe out there.

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Advocacy Backcountry Environment News

Coastal Shoreline Clean-Up

Wonderful news for BC’s Central Coast. Congrats to all, including Adventure Tourism Coalition members, the Wilderness Tourism Association & the Commercial Bear Viewing Association. @BearViewingBC / #WildernessTourismAssociation

BC Gov’t Announcement – https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2020E

WTA Media Kit – https://spark.adobe.com/page/FJw0TGq2dZJK8/

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Backcountry Climbing Environment Mountain Culture Mountaineering News

Selwyn Traverse

I just finished a wonderful 5-day backpacking traverse of the Selwyn Range, east of Valemount and south of Mt Robson, in the Canadian Rockies. A largely undiscovered bit of backcountry paradise.

We experienced all kinds of weather, including a few days of snow or rain, depending on our elevation. The scenery was amazing, a truly world-class, off-trail adventure. Thank to Peter for the invite, and for Art and his Valemount friends for sharing the secrets of their backyard paradise.

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Avalanche Training Backcountry Mountain Culture Mountaineering News Ski Touring

What Will Winter Courses & Ski Touring Look Like

It’s been hitting the high 30’s in Kamloops nearly everyday since the middle of July, so it’s hard to think about ski touring and avalanche courses. But winter really is just around the corner. We are all wondering how the Covid-19 pandemic, and the resulting, necessary measures to combat the spread of the virus will affect our winter activities.

I am very confident that we can deliver the Avalanche Skills Training 1 & 2, and Companion Rescue Skills course in an effective and enjoyable fashion, while meeting all the requirements set up by WorkSafeBC, the Provincial Health Office and the BC Centre for Disease Control. The classroom portion of all courses will be delivered online, and all necessary protocols will be employed during the field portions of the courses. Our courses nearly always run at capacity, so sign-up early.

I have decided to hit the pause button on any ski touring trips, at least for the time being. I prefer to wait and see if, and how the 2nd or 3rd wave of the pandemic manifests itself. I am going to try and run our very popular AST 2+ course, but only if I am completely confident if can be done in an safe manner. I will make a decision on that in early October.

Take good care, Brad