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K-Country specialists offer hours, eyes, well-educated guesses to help keep you alive through avalanche season


Public safety specialists in Kananaskis Country keep constant watch of snow conditions.

It's a daily ritual in the winter months for avalanche forecasters in Canmore to meet in the mornings and look at data collected from four real-time weather stations in Kananaskis Country.

Jeremy Mackenzie, a public safety specialist, says the more information he has, the better he can forecast avalanche activity.

"We have a region that we take care of and every day, we want to analyze what's going on with the snow, what happened with the snowfall and wind overnight, what's happening with the temperatures," he said.

"We're checking for things like what are the bonds between the new layers, and then that leads into our hazard assessment."

Mackenzie says that information is made public through

In addition to the data transmitted from the weather stations, the team will make trips into Kananaskis Country to look at the snow and for any avalanche activity.

Avalanche Canada recently upgraded its website with a flexible forecasting model that allows Mackenzie and the team to provide more accurate conditions within the mountain park.

"If we see something today that's different in the Kananaskis Valley versus the Spray Valley, say Highway 40 versus the Smith Dorian Highway, then we can now split that out and communicate that better," Mackenzie said.

"So we're actually going to be able to create different sub-regions within our Kananaskis region bulletin."

Mackenzie says the snowpack is sitting at 80 centimetres now and that's about average.

He says in early November, the snow was wet and sticky and that helped it bond to the ground, but then there were weeks of drought that created another set of problems.

A crust formed on the top layer of snowpack that developed a surface hoar layer.

"It's like a dew on the top of the snowpack," he said.

"Those create problems, so this most recent snow did fall on that layer and it'll just remain to be seen as to what that does for the rest of the winter."

The end of November brings with it -30 C temperatures in the mountain parks and that again impacts the top layer of snow.

"There's a property where snow crystals actually deteriorate in strength in the cold," Mackenzie said.

"They're actually losing water vapour to the sky because of the cold temperatures and we get a crystal that's more sugary in nature, which is called a facet, and facets create problems into January, February, March, if that's the layer on the base of the snowpack."

Public safety specialists say it's important to research a trip into the backcountry well before the outing to learn as much about the snowpack and conditions as possible.

Mackenzie says that will help skiers, boarders and snowshoers to make the right decisions for their abilities.

"You have to really be paying attention all the way through the beginning of the season and throughout the snowpack year," he said.

"We have had several years of relatively stable snow and we don't know what's going to come this year, so we definitely want users to be heads-up on that and be expecting that they may need to change their behaviour. Some of the bigger ski lines and the bigger features, you may need to wait longer or avoid them entirely for the whole year." Top Stories

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