Map of an area covered by an avalanche warning, issued Thursday.

Special avalanche warning for much of B.C.’s interior ranges

Several near misses and changing conditions prompt an avalanche warning

With a growing avalanche hazard, several near misses and one fatality, Avalanche Canada has issued a special warning for recreational backcountry users to avoid avalanche terrain this weekend.

The warning from Avalanche Canada and Parks Canada is in effect immediately until the end of day Monday, Jan. 15. The warning applies to several areas including the Kootenay Boundary region, which encompasses much of the Okanagan, as well as the Lizard Range & Flathead, South Rockies, Purcells, South and North Columbia, Glacier National Park and the Cariboos.

Related: In an avalanche you have about 15 minutes to live

According to Avalanche Canada, the snowpack in these areas contains a number of weak layers. Recent snowstorms have buried these layers anywhere from 40 cm to more than a metre deep. The weight of the new snow has brought this unstable snowpack to a critical point, making it very easy for skiers or snowmobilers to trigger large avalanches.

Related: Snowpack sitting at 123 per cent of normal

“We have been keeping a close eye on these weak layers and the snow load that has been accumulating on top of them,” said James Floyer, forecasting program supervisor for Avalanche Canada. “It’s a complex situation and we are now at the tipping point. The warmer temperatures forecast for the coming weekend will definitely increase the chances of triggering an avalanche.”

There have been a number of near misses reported over the past seven to 10 days, as well as a fatal avalanche accident north of Fernie on Jan. 8.

“Many of these incidents are occurring in what is generally considered fairly safe terrain, such as relatively low-angle slopes, treed areas and even heavily tracked slopes,” added Floyer. “These conditions require expert-level decision making skills and we recommend backcountry users avoid avalanche terrain. The signs indicating you are exposed to avalanche terrain can be very subtle. If you don’t have the training to recognize them, please avoid the backcountry or hire a professional guide.”

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