The “Ides of March” usually brings to mind Julius Caesar’s unlucky choice to ignore warnings that ultimately lead to his death on March 15, in Roman times, but traditionally, the term “ides” simply meant the 15th day of the month.
Unlike Caesar, backcountry skiers should heed the ides, since March (and spring, generally) can be a time of large avalanches, as successive storm loads build on deeply buried layers, which is the current situation. Weak layers of surface hoar and facets developed in early February are now buried one to two meters deep. Adding to the complexity of the current snowpack are layers of sun crust, also common during the warmer months of spring.
The Canadian Avalanche Centre Public Avalanche Bulletin described the current conditions well.
“Recent avalanche activity builds on what’s been a very active period of avalanche activity since the beginning of March. On (March 11) a fatal avalanche incident south of Revelstoke occurred. Other human-triggered avalanches were reported up to size two and natural avalanches were reported up to size three on a variety of aspects and elevations.”
It’s not just skiers that need to take caution; a natural avalanche recently buried two transport trucks in Rogers Pass.
With conditions as they are, due diligence and caution should be applied. A good strategy is to manage consequence rather than try to “out guess” the snowpack. Choose terrain that has little chance to do harm, such as broken steeps, avoiding large open planar slopes and terrain traps such as creek draws. And, while caution helps avoid both injuries and death, the situation isn’t critical everywhere in the Monashees. The stability varies from area to area according to weather patterns. Choose terrain wisely and take time to investigate the snowpack in the specific area you are skiing for persistent February weak layers.
View these avalanche bulletins before heading into the mountains: www.avalanche.ca, www.acmg.ca and www.powdercloud.com
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