Days after the Canadian Avalanche Centre had issued a special warning, around 200 people visited the Avalanche Awareness Days event held on Blackcomb Mountain over the weekend.
As many as 80 of the visitors took part in transceiver search races, while others met an avalanche dog and went on avalanche tours, all in an effort to raise awareness about travelling safely in the mountains.
Wayne Flann, a longtime Whistler Blackcomb ski patroller, member of the Canadian Avalanche Association and field rescue leader with Whistler Search and Rescue, attended to snap a few photos for his popular avalanche forecast blog.
"The big push this year was to basically get people to try to use transceivers," he said. "It was trying to get people to come up and try it and see how the gear works. It gets people interested. You've got to have the gear to go into avalanche terrain."
Flann and a group of volunteers were also displaying a draft of their avalanche checklist, which they hope to soon distribute at strategic points for people leaving Whistler or Blackcomb mountains for the backcountry.
"It's called the Whistler Backcountry Checklist," Flann said. "We're hoping to have a QR code on it so people can use their phone and scan it and it will bring you to the local avalanche bulletin and possibly other sites like Whistler Search and Rescue."
The awareness events took place just after the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) released a special warning on Thursday (Jan. 16). The warning covered most parts of B.C. — including the Sea to Sky region — and extended until Monday (Jan. 20), urging backcountry users with little experience to stay in bounds for the weekend. The problem, the CAC said, was the warm weather predicted to move in that would destabilize the snowpack.
"I don't think the temperatures did what the forecast thought they were going to do," Karl Klassen, manager of the public avalanche warning service with the CAC, said Sunday (Jan. 19). "We haven't heard much about incidents or accidents."
There was one fatality Saturday (Jan. 18) after a snowmobiler was buried in an avalanche near Valemont.
"It's always a tragedy when something like that happens," Klassen said. "The potential was there for it to be much worse. We haven't heard about any other serious accidents (over the weekend). That's heartening. I think people are paying attention and doing the right thing."
Although the official warning was lifted on Monday, Klassen said backcountry users in the corridor should be prepared for an unusual winter.
"People aren't used to having the weird snowpack we have now," he said. "It's more like the Rocky Mountains. We felt that added to the risk. When you have a shallow snowpack early in the season, you end up with sugary, unconsolidated snow that doesn't bond well to the ground or itself. And there's no new snow falling on top of that. That's the scenario we've had."
The Coast Mountains don't usually have that type of weak layer, he added.
"The next trigger for an avalanche could be the next storm, it could be this warm weather or a skier, snowboarder or snowmobiler hitting the wrong stop on the slopes," Klassen said.
While the CAC refrains from telling people to avoid the backcountry altogether, another warm streak in the forecast could prompt another warning.
"You need to be more cautious than last year or the year before," Klassen said. "It's a pretty unusual situation. It will probably get a lot better. The dry spell right now is not a good thing."