In a city with a high proportion of outdoor enthusiasts, there is always a lot of talk about the weather. Whether in the local supermarket, at a dinner party or running into strangers on a local wilderness trail, the conversation about weather is ever continuing and evolving (much like the weather).
In winter, the weather topics are typically snow focused. Common conversations include the slow start to the season, current conditions about snow depth and texture, the recent snowfall, climate change impacts and oceanic influences (primarily the El Nino and La Nina cycles). Snow safety is also critical and possibly not discussed as much as it should be, particularly for backcountry enthusiasts, who enjoy leisure pursuits in the natural landscape.
On Christmas Day, Avalanche Canada first issued a special public avalanche warning for inland B.C. that was then extended into the first week of the New Year. This reminded backcountry enthusiasts to make conservative terrain choices and be equipped for a self-rescue if an avalanche was set off. In the backcountry when someone is covered by snow, there is no time to go for help if you want the victims to survive.
To date, this avalanche season has not taken any lives as a result of good self-rescue by the parties involved in these horrific incidents. Meteorologists were initially expecting another super El Nino winter much like the one experienced in 1997/98. This has since been downgraded to indicate the El Nino will have a weak influence over our winter weather pattern.
With the latest El Nino cycle prediction in mind, the Rossland News reviewed Avalanche Canada’s incident reports for the last 20 years involving avalanche fatalities. Of the 207 avalanche fatalities in B.C. over this period, the number of deaths during El Nino to La Nina years was comparable at 73 to 75.
For the recent seven years, more than 10 lives were lost each year; three of these being El Nino cycles and three La Nina years while the other one was a neutral year. The greatest number of avalanche fatalities occurred in the 2002/03 season resulting with 26 deaths. This was an El Nino cycle.
This proposes that human behaviour is the result of avalanches fatalities and it is simply not just the weather. This suggests that if you do not have the training or experience to assess avalanche terrain and local conditions, it’s best to recreate in areas where the avalanche risk is professionally managed for you.