Challenging spring time snow conditions in Alberta's mountain parks
KANANASKIS, ALTA. -- Some say it's the best time of year to ski in the back country. There is an abundance of snow in parts of Kananaskis Country and that's attracting skiers who like to avoid the crowds.
"This seems to be the time of year where we get the most amount of snow in this part of the world in that March-April time frame," said Mike Koppang, a public safety specialist in Kananaskis Country. "Unfortunately it's when we're most ready for spring but having said that the skiing at this time of year is absolutely spectacular in the back country."
Upwards of 20 centimetres of snow fell in the Tent Ridge area Thursday and another 20 is expected this evening. Koppang and his team of specialists watch the conditions and monitor how the new snow bonds to the existing snow pack.
"If you can imagine the south side of your house has a crust the north side of your house doesn't have a crust so we actually have two different ways this new snow interacts with the snowpack that's currently on the ground so we have to evaluate these two different aspects and how they're interacting differently," said Koppang.
To make it more challenging, wind conditions and daytime heat impact the snow and the bond between layers.
"It's winter in the morning and it's spring in the afternoon and sometimes it's winter at the bottom part of the hour and it's spring at the top part of the hour," said Koppang. "So there's a lot you need to be thinking about when you're going out in spring in terms of these changing conditions."
Those constantly changing conditions may have played a role in Monday's avalanche fatality near Lake Louise. Koppang says forecasters throughout the mountain parks share information about what happened after an incident.
"So it definitely puts us all on guard," said Koppang. "It makes us all stop and think and reevaluate and it's a sad accident for sure that happened and it definitely effects the whole industry and whole community when there's an accident."
Public safety specialists say they have noticed an uptick this winter in avalanche safety courses and the number of new back country users taking them. Koppang says that helps people make the right choices when they head out.
"The general rule of thumb is to start early and be done early in the spring," said Koppang. "Because heat makes snow melt, when snow melts, just like when it's sliding off the side of your house you know it's going to do that off the mountains too so you need to be thinking about that when you're getting out there."
Koppang says before anyone heads out for a back country adventure they should learn as much as they can about their route and visit avalanche.ca for the latest information.