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'At the tipping point': Weekend avalanche warning issued for B.C. Interior

After several 'near misses' this week, backcountry skiers and sledders alerted to 'critical' trigger level of snowpack in mountains.

Snowshoers take part in an Avalanche Skills Training (AST) course on Mount Seymour in this 2013 file photo

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro Order this photo

Snowshoers take part in an Avalanche Skills Training (AST) course on Mount Seymour in this 2013 file photo

If you're heading out into British Columbia's snow-capped mountains this weekend for backcountry skiing or sledding, be warned.

Experts warned Thursday that snow conditions in seven B.C. Interior regions are at a "critical" level where avalanches can be triggered easily — with often deadly consequences for unprepared outdoor enthusiasts.

There were a number of "near misses" involving backcountry users just in the past week, Avalanche Canada revealed. But on Monday, one Calgary man died while backcountry skiing near Fernie, B.C.

“It’s a complex situation and we are now at the tipping point," said the organization's forecasting supervisor James Floyer in a statement. "The warmer temperatures forecast for the coming weekend will definitely increase the chances of triggering an avalanche.”

The province's recent series of snowstorms have worsened the conditions by created "weak layers" of snow that create avalanche conditions. Those layers are now buried up to a metre under the new snow, Avalanche Canada and Parks Canada explained in a release.

"The weight of the new snow has brought this unstable snowpack to a critical point," they wrote, "making it very easy for skiers or snowmobilers to trigger large avalanches."

The seven regions in the special warning are the Cariboos, Glacier National Park, both South and North Columbia regions, the South Rockies, Purcell Mountains, Kootenay Boundary and the Lizard Range.

“Many of these incidents are occurring in what is generally considered fairly safe terrain, such as relatively low-angle slopes, treed areas and even heavily tracked slopes,” Floyer said. “These conditions require expert-level decision making skills and we recommend backcountry users avoid avalanche terrain."

In January last year, five Alberta men died in an avalanche while snowmobiling near McBride, B.C. The deadliest avalanche in the province, however, was in 1991 in B.C.'s Purcell range, when nine heli-skiers died in a massive slide near Golden, B.C. And this year marks the 10th anniversary of a Fernie, B.C. avalanche that killed eight snowmobilers.

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