Shames Mountain backcountry is easy to access and a popular place for adventure-enthusiasts, but it’s also somewhere no one should go without proper avalanche training.
Avalanche Awareness Days are being recognized in Terrace this weekend with events that emphasize the importance of preparation. The Skeena Bar hosted a mid-season mingler with guest speakers on Jan. 18 and an all-day Avalanche Workshop at Shames Mountain will take place on Jan. 20.
Following a few recent incidents in the area, avalanche safety has been on the minds of many backcountry skiers and snowmobilers.
On Jan. 10, two skiers triggered an avalanche in the area. They were partially buried, but able to dig themselves out with minor injuries. One of the skiers used the airbag in his backpack to stay above the snow, as he was only partially buried. The other skier was pushed up to a tree, fully buried, and he was able to clear his face of snow.
Three other skiers later came to assist them off the mountain.
Lead guide at Northern Escape Heli Skiing and one of the guest speakers at the Skeena Bar, Owen Day, spoke about various factors to consider before making a trek into the backcountry such as having the proper gear, reading daily bulletins from Avalanche Canada and understanding the group dynamic.
He also added to be wary of “ski-itis”, a term that he defines as wanting to ski bigger lines but potentially being blinded to seeing the greater risks.
“If you go into a new place and not really sure, this means we have to be cautious and ease our way into the terrain,” says Day. “On a daily basis, it’s good to know where you were the day before and where you might go (next) — terrain progression is something where you don’t go from skiing something basic to extreme.”
Jupiter MacDonald, the vice-president of Mount Remo Backcountry Society, says that he’s skied all over the province and notes that the appeal of Shames backcountry is its feeling of remoteness and fresh powder.
“There’s nobody here, you literally have the place to yourself and all your friends, it’s amazing and you ski in such good snow.”
He says that for those unfamiliar with the backcountry, “the unknown can sound really dangerous and kind of sketchy.” But with proper training and more time spent out there, he adds that a lot of the hazards can be easily identified by signs and avoided with good judgment calls.
“When you’re in the backcountry, you’re making the decisions (with) your group. It’s very calculated and very safe being out there.”
In Dec. 2018, Avalanche Canada issued special avalanche warnings throughout the province, including the Northwest Coastal region.
After experiencing a lot of rain, B.C. was then hit with a series of storms that dropped a significant amount of snow, which increased the risk of avalanches as the new snow did not bond well to the old surface.
Each region has its own conditions that need to be continuously considered and assessed. The Coast Mountains tend to have more stable snow pact due to warmer temperatures that create more settling and bonding, but with a milder season, experts say it isn’t always so consistent.
On Jan. 19, Avalanche Canada forecasted that avalanche danger is high for parts of the Northwest Coastal region, as 20 to 30 cm of snow with strong winds is expected by Sunday morning. It’s advised that wind-loaded terrain is taken with caution, especially in areas accumulating over 35 cm of new snow.
– with files from Shannon Lough