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Avalanche control in the west: Reducing the risks of the unpredictable slides

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Digital writers

Monday, January 20, 2014, 9:20 AM -

Temperatures soared across much of western Canada over the weekend, increasing the risk of avalanches at many popular ski resorts.

The Canadian Avalanche Centre issued a special public avalanche warning, highlighting the risk for very large natural and human-triggered avalanches.

The CAC's Karl Klassen says the 'blue sky syndrome' gives some people a false sense of security when the weather is nice.

The avalanche risk remains "considerable" for much of the region on Monday.

According to Brendan Martland with the snow safety department at Alberta's Sunshine Village, predicting precisely when an avalanche will occur is next to impossible.

As a result, when conditions destabilize, Sunshine Village takes matters into their hands by setting off controlled avalanches.

"So we'll go out check snow conditions, dig profiles, look at the crystals and monitor stability, and when we're not happy with stability or if its uncertain, then we'll go out and test it with explosives," Martland says. "You're hunkered down and your ears are plugged and it's a little bit nerve wracking, but there is a little bit of a childish joy in just lighting a big bomb."

SEE ALSO: What is the 'blue sky syndrome?'

Martland says avalanche control is necessary to ensure visitors stay safe on the slopes.

"Especially in the Rockies, we can have these deep persistent weak layers that can linger for a long time, so it really depends on the weather and what the winter brings in terms of snowpack structure and there's no golden rule per say," Martland explains.

The CAC says those traveling to the backcountry should have:

  • An avalanche transceiver.
  • Probe.
  • Shovel.

In addition, "everyone should have some training in recognizing avalanche terrain and applying safe backcountry travel techniques," says the CAC.

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