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Backcountry travellers warned about Vancouver Island avalanche threat

RECENT HEAVY SNOWFALL has made Mount Washington a paradise for skiers and boarders, but has also created an avalanche hazard. - Mount Washington Alpine Resort
RECENT HEAVY SNOWFALL has made Mount Washington a paradise for skiers and boarders, but has also created an avalanche hazard.
— image credit: Mount Washington Alpine Resort

As outdoor enthusiasts enjoy fresh powder with a blast of winter this past week, the danger of travelling into backcountry has increased, with a high to considerable avalanche rating on Vancouver Island.
The Vancouver Island Avalanche Bulletin (VIAB) rated the alpine and treeline danger ratings as high on Tuesday, and considerable for Wednesday, while below-treeline rating as considerable for the two days.
VIAB noted significant quantities of new snow will be moved by strong winds from the southeast to southwest. The storm slab is unstable due to 40 cm to around a metre of new snow falling from late Monday into Wednesday.
They added avalanches will be from small in size to at least large enough to bury, injure or kill a person.
Rob Hanna, president of the Mid-Island Sno-Blazers, a snowmobile association with the B.C. Snowmobile Federation, said conditions on the Island are excellent, but only for those trained and prepared for the weather.
"There was some really great conditions; the snow was beautiful, the weather was good, but we went out knowing the avalanche warning was high," he noted.
Hanna, along with his wife, are certified snowmobile instructors, and have taken avalanche training with the Canadian Avalanche Centre.
"Safety is paramount," he added. "With conditions like this — several days of fresh, large snowfalls — people should wait a minimum of 24, if not, 48 hours."
Hanna said if a snowmobiler or skier ventures into backcountry without proper avalanche training, "it's a recipe for disaster. It's like going in there blind if you don't have any training."
He added snow conditions can be deceiving; although fresh snow may appear fluffy and light, it can present equally dangerous conditions as huge, wet snowfalls.
"A block of snow the size of a fridge can weigh 1,600 pounds," Hanna explained. "In a slap avalanche, there could be hundreds of blocks crashing up against each other. It's like being in a traffic jam with Volkswagens coming at you."
Hanna suggested his best advice for those wanting to venture out in current conditions is to not ride alone, join a club, do not take avalanche warnings lightly  and be prepared (he suggests taking appropriate clothing, food, safety gear and snowshoes).
According to VIAB, travel in avalanche terrain was not recommended Tuesday, and should only be considered by those with advanced snow stability evaluation skills and route finding skills on Wednesday.
For more information on the Mid-Island Sno-Blazers, visit www.midislandsnoblazers.ca, and for up-to-date avalanche conditions, visit VIAB at www.islandavalanchebulletin.com.
photos@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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