Heavy snow, high winds prompt rare Maritimes avalanche warning
Published Tuesday, February 12, 2013 7:49AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 12, 2013 5:50PM EST
The Canadian Avalanche Centre has issued a rare hazard alert for the Maritimes after two skiers triggered avalanches over the weekend.
Most of the region received between 20 and 40 centimetres of snow, with winds of over 80 kilometres in many areas. The combination of snow and wind created prime avalanche conditions, the CAC said.
"The avalanches that we’re seeing aren’t very large, but they’re big enough to bury an adult up to their chest in certain kinds of terrain,” said Karl Klassen, manager of the avalanche centre's public warnings service. Klassen added that parents should be extra careful when taking children out on tobogganing hills.
The skiers were in the backcountry north of Truro Saturday on Higgins Mountain, which is close to Nova Scotia's Wentworth Valley Ski Hill, when the first slide was triggered.
Skier Charles Stevens, 21, told CTV Atlantic he dropped in on a tree-covered slope and set off a 15-metre-wide avalanche. He was unable to escape the slide and was carried to the bottom of the ravine.
“So I just kind of stood there and braced for it, and the snow piled all up around me and (I) ended up to my chest in snow,” Stevens said.
The second skier, who was higher up the slope, attempted to traverse away from the danger zone but set off another slide in the process. The second skier was able to avoid the slide and make it to a safe area.
The avalanche alert is in place across the Maritimes anywhere 20 centimetres of fresh snow has fallen, on slopes of 20 degrees or steeper.
"Areas where a hard or icy crust underlies the new snow are of particular concern, as are places where windblown snow has formed firm drifts," said the CAC statement. "Where these conditions exist, the CAC recommends avoiding steep slopes, gullies, and places where sliding snow could push someone into a creek or lake."
Mount Allison University geography professor Colin Laroque said there are two factors needed for an avalanche to occur.
“You need that steeper slope and you also need the right climate conditions. And we often have the right climate conditions to make the different layers in the snow that could trigger a slide,” he said.
The centre warned the avalanche danger will increase if temperatures rise, more snow falls or winds increase.
Meanwhile back at Wentworth Valley, manager Leslie Wilson said the incident won’t likely change the behaviour of skiers.
Wilson knows the two skiers well and said they’ll be back on the slopes in no time.
“They were back out doing some more back country skiing after the incident happened actually,” she said.
Other skiers at the hill also were undeterred by the incident.
“I always ski with a bunch of friends and don’t go anywhere that you can’t ski, so like, stay within your limits,” skier Andrew Murphy said.
A statement from the CAC said children should be supervised when outdoors on snow-covered slopes, and adventurers who choose to venture into the backcountry should carry safety equipment such as a telescopic avalanche probe and shovel, in the event that a rescue is necessary.
Anyone heading to steeper slopes should also carry an avalanche transceiver, the centre said.
With a report from CTV Atlantic’s David Bell