Spring Skiing: Backcountry Danger

April 09, 2014 D'Arcy McLeish

Spring is a funny time of year. When the sun is out, it can be the best of the seasons. Long days on the hill, the backcountry or in the valley present an opportunity for us to wear less clothing, do all our favourite activities and escape the long, mountain winter. The flip side to that is when it’s warm and rainy and the mountains are clagged in, spring sucks. Spring skiing has an unique flavour. Nothing like ski patrolling in the rain, my friends. You’re hot, wet and miserable and the only folks skiing on the hill area a very special breed…

Unless It's Going To Be Like This...why Even Bother Going Up The Hill? Photo - Caton Garvie
Unless it’s going to be like this…why even bother going up the hill?
Photo – Caton Garvie

Ski touring in the spring can be awesome. Long days make for the perfect time to bag big objectives. The stability is often good and we do, especially here on the south coast, tend to get nice little pow storms on a regular basis. Spring presents some unique challenges for those heading into the backcountry. Cornices have matured throughout the winter and tend to be at their biggest this time of year. And remember that a cornice breaking is scary, but what is scarier is being on a slope that’s under a cornice or two and one of them  falls into the slope. Putting a car or bus-sized chunk of snow on a slope is a big trigger and cornice failures will often pull out deeper slabs on a given slope.

Spring Skiing At Its Finest Photo - Skipassmagazine.ro
Spring skiing at its finest
Photo – Skipassmagazine.ro

Another thing is heat. This weekend, for instance, and into early next week, we’re going to see much warmer temps across southern BC. What does that mean? South facing stuff is going to start to move, so give it a wide berth when the sun is baking it away mid afternoon. Depending on how hot it gets up there, spring can also re-awaken deeper layers that maybe haven’t been an issue for a few months. All that water lubricating a big, deep snowpack with some buried facets at the bottom can make for deep slab avalanches pulling out.

Spring Touring Is Awesome... Photo - Randy Lincks
Spring touring is awesome…
Photo – Randy Lincks

Isothermal snow, deceptively cold nights and potentially hectic melt freeze conditions can be added to the list of spring skiing hazards. So do yourself a favour and keep track of the weather, the snow and yourself. If you’re going to go touring, be equipped for self rescue and go with others who are as well. Spring is one of the best times of year, but the backcountry presents some unique challenges, be it cornice hazard, wet avalanches or just plain challenging snow and weather.

Spring Heliskiing, Living At Its Finest.  Photo - Mike Watling
Spring heliskiing, living at its finest.
Photo – Mike Watling

So be safe, and maybe…forget skiing altogether?…Yes, forget it. Do something else this weekend. Who wants to ski when it’s going to 19 degrees and sunny? That’s summer weather, my friend. So go spend a day in the city or a day at the crags. Jump on your bike and go ride Squamish or the shore. Or just find a nice bench, tree or perch and enjoy the sun.

Be safe, chill hard.


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