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Avalanche warning issued for Island

Mar 17 2012
A snowfall on Vancouver Island mountains this week has powder-loving skiers at Mount Washington happy but snowmobilers are urged to stay out of the back country because of what is classified as an extreme risk of avalanches. 

A snowfall on Vancouver Island mountains this week has powder-loving skiers at Mount Washington happy but snowmobilers are urged to stay out of the back country because of what is classified as an extreme risk of avalanches.

Photograph by: File photo , timescolonist.com

A snowfall on Vancouver Island mountains this week has powder-loving skiers at Mount Washington happy but snowmobilers are urged to stay out of the back country because of what is classified as an extreme risk of avalanches.

“The conditions that we have right now are part of a 30-year cycle,” said Rob Hanna, president of the Mid-Island Sno-Blazers Snowmobile Association, on Friday. Mount Washington saw the most snow it has ever had in a week and has the deepest mid-mountain snowpack in Canada at 527 centimetres. A total of 1,110 cm. has fallen this season.

People who don’t go into the back country don’t see that major avalanches occur regularly on the Island, said Hanna. He added that the conditions now mean they’re happening naturally, without any warning.

“What they’re predicting … is the avalanches we’ll see over the next few days and few weeks could be some of the biggest we’ve had for a while,” said Hanna.

Record-setting snows over the past week mean avalanches that previously swept down hills and settled could continue up the side of the next hill, Hanna said.

Caution was also urged by Justin Trudeau, who was in Victoria this week for a political meeting. His brother, Michel, was killed on Nov. 13, 1998 in the Kokanee range when an avalanche swept him into a lake. His body was never found.

“It comes down to the willingness and awareness of an individual to get the equipment, to learn what risks they’re taking ... so they appreciate the thrill of the risk they’re taking but don’t get surprised,” said Trudeau.

“It’s a high-risk world out there and there will always be unfortunate deaths. The problem is the stupid deaths, the ones where the warnings were there … and slides were likely.”

He urged snowmobilers to consider the risks before riding through an avalanche-prone area. “It’s not just about the day you’re having, it’s about the family you want to come home to.”

“Extreme usually means it’s a guaranteed thing — it’s going to happen,” said Robin Schopp of North Island Snowmobile Association.

The heavy snowfall on the north Island mountains this week has left a soft snowpack that keeps snowmobiles from dangerous areas anyway, said Schopp.

“We have to wait for the snow to set up a little bit. Basically, the riding for our club members right now is extremely safe because they’re not going to be able to get anywhere that a large avalanche can occur.”

Schopp was caught in an avalanche himself a few years ago.

“I knew it was going to happen and I went there anyway like a dummy,” he said.

“I went up a hill and it all came down. I didn’t get totally buried — my head was still up.”

The experience taught him to listen to his first instincts.

“You learn from your mistakes sometimes. Hopefully they’re not really bad ones.”

smccullcoh@timescolonist.com

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