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Avalanche warning takes effect for regions of western Alberta

Avalanche forecasting experts are urging the public to take caution if wandering into the backcountry this weekend.

Avalanche forecasting experts are urging the public to take caution if wandering into the backcountry this weekend.

Avalanche Canada, in partnership with Parks Canada, is issuing a public avalanche warning for recreational backcountry users across numerous forecast regions in Alberta and B.C, including the North and South Columbias, Kootenay Boundary, Glacier, Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks.

It also applies to an area within the Sea-to-Sky and South Coast Inland regions, from Squamish to Pemberton.

The warning comes as warmer temperatures and lots of sunshine are expected over the weekend, which will have a destabilizing effect on the snowpack.

“There are persistent weak layers in the mountain snowpack across most of southern BC and western Alberta,” explained James Floyer, forecasting program supervisor for Avalanche Canada in a news release. “This special warning targets regions where these layers have proven to be an issue. The combination of this snowpack structure and higher temperatures will make natural and human-triggered avalanches much more likely.”

Many large avalanches have run the full extent of their paths and several close calls have been reported. Floy added that there is a lot of uncertainty with the weak layers.

“While we have targeted an area where we think there is a higher risk of triggering these deep weak layers, we also urge backcountry users in adjacent regions to exercise caution during this warming period.”

According to Avalanche Canada forecasts, Sunshine Village ski resort has reported fresh windslabs in the alpine that have been easily triggered by skiers. Avalanche closures are in effect for the Simpson Area in Kootenay and the Sunshine ski area access road where avalanche control measures are planned for Friday, Jan. 21.

Other areas of Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks will be intermittently closed for avalanche control using explosives.

Regardless of activity, backcountry users are encouraged to always check regional forecasts before heading out, whether they're hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or snowmobiling.

Each backcountry user should be equipped with the essential rescue gear which includes a transceiver, probe and shovel — as well as the knowledge to use it.

The avalanche warning will apply through to the end of Monday, Jan. 24.