Avalanche warning issued, 2 B.C. highways closed amid heavy snow

Route closed between Hope and Merritt; Avalanche Canada warns of dangerous backcountry conditions

Heavy snowfall is creating dangerous conditions for both drivers and backcountry users in B.C.

The Coquihalla Highway has been closed in both directions from Hope to Merritt, B.C., following an early-morning vehicle crash, according to DriveBC.

Highway 1 from Revelstoke to Golden has also been closed due to avalanche risk, with no detour available. The route is expected to open around 12 p.m. PT on Thursday, according to DriveBC.

A special warning from Avalanche Canada and the province says recent storms have resulted in significant snowfall amounts across Western Canada. That snow is now sitting on weak layers of snow on mountains, meaning an increased risk of human-caused avalanches.

"This has been the biggest storm of the season, and we know backcountry users are eager to enjoy the snow," said Avalanche Canada forecaster Tyson Rettie.

"But it's vital to not underestimate the instability of these weak layers. Any avalanche triggered on them could be deadly."

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LEARN MORE: Why B.C.'s Coquihalla Highway is a danger in the winter

The agency recommends users stick to lower-angle slopes and smaller climbs to "minimize the consequences of an avalanche."

This special warning is in effect from Thursday to the end of next Monday, March 4.

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Coquihalla closure

The Coquihalla Highway closed between Hope and Merritt around 2 a.m. PT Thursday.

The province's traveller information service said a 103-kilometre section of the highway, a major route connecting the Lower Mainland to the Interior, was closed around 2 a.m. PT Thursday.

Danger rating map/Avalanche Canada via CBC

Avalanche danger ratings are shown on an Avalanche Canada map at 12 p.m. PT on Feb. 28, 2024. (Avalanche Canada)

It did not give details about the nature of the incident. B.C. RCMP said it was preparing to provide details of the crash to CBC News.

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DriveBC says travellers must detour along Highway 1 until an expected reopening at around noon Thursday.

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The highway remains under a winter storm warning, with another five centimetres of snow expected over Thursday, Environment Canada says.

Traffic cameras at the summit of the Coquihalla show a significant accumulation of snow on the roadway.

Contractors and tow truck drivers responsible for maintaining and providing service along the Coquihalla said the snow storm Wednesday into Thursday made for treacherous driving conditions along the popular route.

"Just really wet, icy snow," said Dave Duncan, general manager at Yellowhead Road and Bridge Ltd. "Even cars and trucks with good tires are struggling to stay straight."

Other passes

Environment Canada also has winter storm warnings in place Thursday for the Eagle Pass to Rogers Pass section of the Trans Canada Highway, for Highway 3 from the Paulson Summit to the Kootenay Pass and Highway 16 from Tête Jaune Cache to the Alberta border.

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Up to 15 centimetres of snow is forecast to accumulate in those areas. Snowfall and gusty winds are expected to begin to ease on through the day, said the forecaster.

The weather agency says the Pacific frontal system behind the winter storm has dropped 57 centimetres of snow in Whistler, up to 60 centimetres at the Sea to Sky Highway and 32 centimetres at Coquihalla summit.

This article was originally published for CBC News. Contains files from the The Canadian Press.

Thumbnail courtesy of Corey Bullock/CBC.