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Avalanche Canada begins forecasting for the season

 | November 25, 2020
Avalanche Canada forecaster collecting field data during a snowpack analysis.

Canada’s public avalanche bulletins are set to begin ahead of the busiest expected backcountry season amidst a pandemic.

Avalanche Canada has been providing backcountry users with free public avalanche forecasts for over 20 years but has never encountered a season quite like this.

On Nov. 26, Avalanche Canada forecasters will roll out their first avalanche forecast for the season using snowpack analysis, weather, commercial ski operation observations and the Mountain Information Network (MIN) reports from all over western Canada.

However, this season is complex considering an expected increase in avalanche terrain travel with more people relying on accurate forecasts to make key decisions in the backcountry, a decrease in commercial backcountry skiing operations and an ongoing pandemic.

“We recognize that people look to forecasts to base their decisions on and to get a sense of the avalanche conditions in the mountains, we’ve always been diligent and very cognizant of that. We’re not gonna let that slip,” said James Floyer, Avalanche Canada forecast program supervisor.

“We’re upbeat that we will be able to put out regular high quality forecasts throughout the winter even if there is a worsening of the pandemic or some data holes to fill, we have a number of contingencies in place for that,” Floyer added.

One notable obstacle will be gathering enough information due to the expected decrease in commercial backcountry ski operations because of the pandemic which brings difficulties for Floyer and his team of experienced forecasters.

“Normally we look to heli and cat skiing operations to provide us with data to help us forecast but to fill the gap we’re going to send teams into the field more often and secondarily we’re looking to the MIN reports submitted by members of the public, which we’ve already seen a doubling of and its very high quality information coming in,” Floyer said.

Avalanche Canada forecasters will be spending more time in the field this winter to ensure they have the information they need to produce high-quality forecasts all winter long.

“We employ part time staff who would typically work for Avalanche Canada and work part time as guides but this year we’re finding that we’re getting more of their time so it’s increasing our capacity.”

Along with increased field data collection despite COVID related hurdles, Avalanche Canada has also implemented some new additions to their platform including a bilingual forecast, satellite messaging system (SMS) forecast and increased forecasting to the North Rockies and Yukon avalanche regions.

”Bilingual forecasts are something that we have had in the works for a number of years and the SMS forecasts will provide users with basic forecasts outside of cell phone coverage in a small amount of characters to a device such as an inReach, that program will be launched mid December,” explained Floyer.

New learning materials are also being made available on the website including online webinars and a new online learning program called Avy Savvy that will be launched in a week or two, Floyer added.

“The online webinars are something that we’ve talked about wanting to do for a few years now, but our hand was very much forced by COVID and our inability to be able to do in person events.

“The new Avy Savvy program we are very excited about and will be launching very soon. We wanted to make sure that those concepts in terms of the way we explain those ideas are coordinated between all of our products. It’s such a big thing for us having the coordinated approach.”

To find out more about Avalanche Canada forecasts for your avalanche region and to find out how to use those forecasts, visit their website at www.avalanche.ca.

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