The snowpack this season has so far been very problematic. Tragically, there have been many human-triggered avalanches with the highest of consequences. So far, it's a good year to stay on gentle terrain in the backcountry, and get your adrenaline fix within the controlled areas of ski resorts.
The dynamics that lead recreationalists to make the decisions they do, and accept the risks that goes along with those decisions, continue to mystify those that work in the search & rescue, and snow safety industries. There has been a larger than normal number of SAR calls in BC this winter so far. These teams of highly trained personnel don't hesitate to risk their asses any time the call comes, and they do it as volunteers. I'm sure the appreciation towards these folks by someone that's been rescued from a real emergency is profound, and can never be put into words. We'd like to thank all these individuals for their dedication to safety of the general public that is limitlessly provided by all those who volunteer in these organizations.
The weak layer deep in the snowpack currently found in central/eastern BC is exacerbated by the relatively low amounts of snowfall (slightly below normal). These two factors are directly linked to the number of the recent avalanche involvements in these areas. The number of SAR call-outs (non-avalanche related) is most likely a secondary result of lack of snow. Recreationalists tend to 'push further' when the conditions are poor. We fall into heuristic traps, resulting simply from human nature, in a search for the euphoric pleasure of riding untracked snow. This results in people getting lost after leaving the boundary of their resort, for example, when on a season with more snow they may not have been so tempted to go beyond the ropes.
There is, however, always somewhere to ski safely. This is a time to hire a local guide, and learn from the professionals how to respect the power of a weak snowpack, and how to avoid areas that have a tendency to fail when disturbed. Recognizing the signs of 'simple' terrain is paramount, and staying well away from everything else is the way we should all be traveling.
A fix for this problem? The best thing now is probably a heavy amount of precipitation, creating avalanches on areas that have not yet slid, and hit the 'reset' switch. It'll come around, but for now let's tread lightly.
We're looking forward to several bookings coming up, showing new and return guests the amazing terrain of Kicking Horse Resort and the surrounding backcountry, as well as running a West Kootenay Circuit tour starting March 1st.
We hope to ski with you soon! -Mike