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2023-03-03 at 08:49 - comment by Dj

Thanks for taking the time to post that information.

You are the avalanche whisperer.

The mountains aren't going anywhere.

Wait for good conditions.


Report Submitted by DEMOCRATIZE AB
(trip) Date: Wednesday Mar 01, 2023

Submitted: Thursday Mar 02, 2023 at 01:28


A contact in the back country told me that 2 people are likely dead as a result of an avalanche at RK Heli Skiing.

The rotten December cold affected sugar like faceted snow can be dangerous on slopes as low as 20 degrees, in my experience, which is higher intermediate level skiing terrain. Once slopes have shed this faceted snow in an avalanche, then they generally become safer to ski or cross.

Slopes as short as 30 feet can avalanche and kill people under the right specific conditions.

Some avalanches can result in faces, arms and legs being torn off along with many bones in the body being broken, particularly if the avalanches run through rock fields (an old room mates wife had to dig out such bodies and she has PTSD to this day as a result). Small avalanches in trees can impale a person into a tree branch like a knife while doing other nasty things to the body. One of the Prime Minister's brothers was buried in a lake by an avalanche and rests in peace to this day there.

If Environment Canada's long range below normal temperature and precipitation forecasts turn out to be accurate, this unstable snowpack could continue well into April or even May in many areas in the western Canadian mountains, particularly at higher elevations. This condition could even last into June at extreme high elevation NE faced slopes if the weather permits. Skiers, snowmobilers and ice climbers need to be aware of this possibility.

If you are skiing on a trail, learn to recognize avalanche terrain. Avalanche slopes that are old and grown over with trees can be difficult to recognize without experience. Some slopes will only avalanche every so many decades or even once in a hundred years. Just because you cross an open avalanche slope does not mean you are out of avalanche danger. Avalanches can rip through old growth forest and take you out.

If you are not familiar with all avalanche paths, look at some of the more obvious ones along the highway. Note younger forest growing on the side of the avalanche slope and at the bottom. The younger trees are an indication that an avalanche ripped through the forest in the past. Understand this will enable you to pick safer places to stop on trails for a break during considerable avalanche risk situations.

If you are skiing adjacent to a well defined avalanche path and see trees with branches missing on the uphill side, this is an indicator that an avalanche ripped through the forest in the past. Younger trees with no damage may also be growing in such areas which can hide avalanche path traces.

If you see trees on a slope that are angled over downhill, that is an indication of past avalanches or the snowpack has "flowed" or crept downhill and is putting pressure on the trees. There is a risk of an avalanche in such situations as the slope may be under stress from the weight of the snow.

It is a good idea to take an avalanche awareness course or learn from experienced avalanche experts. You can teach yourself as well if you are a good self learner.

When ever I go skiing I do a very basic pole test of the snowpack in many locations. This is not a good substitute for an actual shovel test pit but it is better than nothing. Both in combination are a good idea. The more of both the better if you are skiing in avalanche terrain. Simply stick your pole down as far as it will go and gently pull up while trying to get the pole basket to help you feel the snowpack for layers. Some layers may not be feel-able because they are so thin but most will be. Only shovel test pits will identify micro layers. In this years snowpack you will likely feel a lot of "sugary" snow in the snowpack with your pole. Such snow can be very dangerous generally on slopes greater than 20 degrees in my experience, depending on specific conditions.

When you feel soft layers between hard layers with your poles, these can be a concern as well.

Some avalanches can run on slopes as low as 10 degrees according to some experts. These are more likely to occur in spring under specific conditions.

Avalanches can make all sorts of sounds at various stages in the avalanche which are important to listen for if you still have the hearing to do so. If you have bad hearing, you are more likely to be taken out by an avalanche. My hearing has saved my life numerous times in avalanche terrain. It is not a good idea to have people chattering when skiing avalanche slopes. Spread the people out for safety when crossing avalanche slopes. Skiing alone has probably saved my life several times as I can hear what is happening in the snowpack in specific situations.

Avalanches can also be felt in some cases before they run, particularly near the start zone. I have felt them even on a snowmobile before they ran. The machine would just drip slightly to the downhill side maybe a couple of centimeters. Experience would tell me that is not my riding. You have to be on the ball to survive such situations.

Snow is highly complicated. Some cultures have many dozens of ways to describe it as it comes in all sorts of forms and shapes. It is critical to understand as much about it as possible along with avalanches if you venture out skiing along mountain sides or hill sides. Avalanches even occur in Calgary along the Glenmore Reservoir and in Fish Creek Park and I have seen them big enough to kill.

Make time for avalanche awareness education.

I have some good stories about avalanches. If you flash me with your headlamp skiing at night, maybe ask about one or two for entertainment.

Democratize AB
Self trained in avalanche awareness since 1974
Causer of hundreds of avalanches for fun and safety
Ski Resort Operations and Management
On skis since the winter of'69


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