Avalanche Activity at Lake LouisePosted: January 15, 2011
After by far the biggest storm of the season at Lake Louise left over 40cm of new snow on an already sketchy snowpack, one would think it obvious that the avalanche danger would rise to levels making it foolish to travel anywhere other than inside ski area boundaries or over simple terrain (i.e. flat) outside the boundary. Parks Canada has rated the danger as “4-High” – one level below extreme – in the backcountry, stating that natural avalanche activity is widespread and that with conditions the way they are now, it may be better to remain at home than be in the mountains, at least until things settle somewhat.
Here in Lake Louise it is Avalanche Awareness weekend, with a number of activities planned to promote education and awareness amongst the skiing public. Education remains a challenge, so events like these are embraced by the snow safety team as a great opportunity to spread the word of good decision-making and safe travel in the mountains.
Inside the ski area boundary, skiing conditions are about as good as they get, with soft untracked lines available late into the day Saturday. Previously opened avalanche terrain took a little longer to open today due to the snow and accompanying winds, but open they did, and smiling faces were easy to find in places like Boomerang, Whitehorn I, and ‘A’ Gully of Whitehorn II.
So, with all this in mind, it defies explanation that people blindly went into places like West Bowl and Maintenance (both outside the ski area boundary) with their associated avalanche danger, especially with so many good lines to be found in bounds. A size 3 skier-triggered avalanche cleaned out most of West Bowl, while numerous skier-triggered size 2 avalanches left their mark in Maintenance. Size 2 and particularly size 3 avalanches can easily kill or seriously injure those caught in them, and we’re left shaking our heads wondering why people are oblivious to the hazard.
Inside the resort boundary, skiers also found their way into avalanche closures. Those ducking the rope into Upper ER5 came within metres of two large avalanches that ran just an hour or two earlier when teams were conducting control work with explosives, yet this glaring evidence left no impression on those going under the rope. These avalanches ran all the way to the bottom of Lower ER5, which means that those entering closed terrain could have triggered an avalanche that had the potential to reach open terrain. Granted, if control teams felt there was any significant hazard in Upper ER5, they would not open the lower half. But either way, this reality escaped the thoughts of those who took it upon themselves to decide what was acceptable and what wasn’t, without thinking about closures already in place.