Backcountry skiers take note: High risk of avalanche

(See trails update below for the latest on CNC and Chester Lake/Buller)

Anyone planning to head out to the backcountry may want to rethink their plans, warns the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

The risk of snow slides is rated as high at all levels, even below the treeline in  the Fernie-Lizard Range area and the Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks, which means widespread avalanches are expected. Read more High avalanche risk for mountain recreation.

Here’s the Kananaskis Danger scale for today(Wed Jan 7, 2009):

Avalanche Danger Scale Wednesday Thursday Friday
Alpine Considerable Considerable Considerable
Treeline Considerable Considerable Considerable
Below Treeline Moderate Moderate Moderate

Read the complete details at Kananaskis backcountry report

One of our regular backcountry contributors, Steve Riggs, has left a comment below with information about avalanche risk on the Burstall Pass, Boom Lake, and Healy Pass areas.

I have posted links to the Avalanche reports for all regions on the sidebar under Backcountry.

Does anyone know if there is any avalanche danger anywhere on the groomed trails? The pamphlet entitled “Nordic Trails in Banff National Park ” shows avalanche zones on the Spray River west side and on Redearth Creek.

Trails update:

I spent a good portion of the day at the Canmore Nordic Centre participating in the “try-outs” for the Alberta 55+ winter games. I’m in! I will be representing Zone 2.  I say cross-country skiing keeps you young.

Bob at the tryouts for Alberta 55+ Winter Games

Bob qualifies for Alberta 55+ Winter Games

Trails at the nordic centre are excellent on the man-made snow, still a few hazards on the natural snow. Access to the Banff Trail is blocked off for snow-making right now, so they have made a detour on Coyote trail. It’s a rock pile for about 500 metres. You will damage your skis here. I saw a huge pile of snow waiting to be spread and groomed so hopefully it will be done soon.

Snowing lightly(barely a dusting) at the nordic centre today with rain at lower elevations. The 2-4 cm that was in the forecast did not materialize, at least not yet.

Chester Lake/Buller Update Jan 8 at 8:17 a.m:
Chris Williams, innkeeper at Mt Engadine Lodge just sent an email:

“Just to let you know and your readers know, we have received almost a
foot of fresh powder in the last 24 hours around the Lodge area.  It
seems to be localized to between Chester and Buller areas, but it is
beautiful out here right now – hope this helps!”

Here’s a link to Mt Engadine Lodge 

Chris, can you let us know if you are open for skiers to drop in for afternoon tea? What days/hours, and are reservations required?

Lake Louise update: Banff Trail report says “as of January 8, approximately 40 cm of new snow has covered all grooming.  Tracksetting is ongoing. Updates will be posted as we receive info from groomers.” Check the trail reports on the sidebar. Kananaskis does a major update, usually late Thursday.


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  1. Same creek different trail, Bob. Steve and I are referring to the trail from the Bourgeau parking lot at Sunshine to Healy Pass. Sorry for the confusion.

  2. I’m not very familiar with the backcountry trails and I’m a bit confused. Is Healy Pass which Steve is referring to the same thing as Healy Creek? I am familiar with the groomed trail called “Healy Creek” that runs from Sunshine road to the Cave and Basin.

  3. It should be noted that four people were killed in an avalanche from one of the Healy Creek slide paths in 1990. They were at the side of the path in the mature timber, eating their lunch, when a huge slide came down overflowed the path and into the area where they had stopped.

    The avalanche hazard that day was extreme.

    There was also a fatality at Burstall Pass in 1995, on a day when the hazard was extreme.

    Details in this report

  4. A few comments about backcountry skiing, and avalanche risk-
    Most backcountry destinations involve exposure to avalanche hazard, to varying degrees. All three destinations mentioned above, although safer than most, are exposed to the runout zones of avalanche paths. In the case of the trails to Burstall and Healy, some of these are quite large, and there are also plenty of areas nearby the usual routes in both areas, that can present a significant hazard, especially given the current conditions.
    Having said that, it is possible to travel with an acceptable degree of safety at Burstall and Healy right now, using proper travel and terrain management skills. If you don’t have these, best to get started with an avalanche course,so you can begin to make informed decisions.
    Both the Spray and Redearth Creek trails do cross the bottom of large slidepaths, which probably rarely run that far, but obviously they have in the past.
    Not a good place to stop for lunch! I’ve seen skiers sitting in blissful ignorance, eating lunch in the middle of those huge slidepaths in Paradise Valley, for example.
    Been out enjoying afterwork skiing at West Bragg this week. Conditions are still great, a bit harder packed in spots with the warmer weather. Get it while you can, next week is forecast to be quite warm.

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