Globe and Mail: Avalanche centre issues warning for B.C., Alberta

This article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail

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Todd Fogarty had been skiing the same slope every season for 30 years when it slid out from under him in December of 2012. He was caught in an avalanche and swept into the trees, which broke his fall along with several bones.

“I was in the blackness,” he said. “The whole world slowed down.”

Bulletins this week are warning of varying levels of avalanche danger for Alberta and British Columbia, with high-risk pockets across the Rocky Mountains in both provinces. In many places across the mountains, warm weather is to blame for the current avalanche conditions as the sun weakens the snowpack.

Conditions always vary throughout the mountains, however, and even from one aspect to another.

In Mr. Fogarty’s case, it was the change in conditions from the top of the mountain to just below that put him and his group in danger.

“It fooled all of us,” he said. “It was new snow on new snow. But the lower levels [had] a small rain crust underneath, and new snow on top of that. We couldn’t identify that on the upper reaches of the mountain.”

In some conditions a rain crust can act as a smooth plate, not binding with the layers on top of it. Depending on what falls on top of it, that snow can be more likely to slide off.

Last year, five people died in avalanches in Canada, all of which were in B.C.

With one back-country fatality in December, ski- and snowboard-related avalanche casualties are already higher than at the same time last year.

But Canadian Avalanche Centre forecaster Karl Klassen said there are many more incidents than deaths, and not all incidents are reported to the CAC.

The only guaranteed way to avoid an avalanche is to stay out of the mountains. But there are other ways of staying as safe as possible, said Mr. Klassen.

“First thing to do is to plan your trip,” he said. “That requires you to check the avalanche forecast for the region that you’re going to.”

But understanding the bulletin itself requires training. The Canadian Avalanche Centre strongly recommends avalanche safety courses for anyone planning on heading out of bounds.

They also recommend that visitors to the back country know the weather forecast and what that means. Having rescue equipment – and knowing how to use it – is also a must, says Mr. Klassen.

Mr. Fogarty and his group of back-country veterans were not brazenly venturing into unknown territory without training or equipment, and the conditions weren’t suggesting that a slide was likely. But as with the dozens of avalanches that hit skiers and snowboarders every year, several different factors conspired to cause the snow to let go.

This weekend, communities across Alberta and British Columbia are hosting Avalanche Awareness Days. The events will feature transceiver demonstrations, route planning information, and other clinics intended to help keep visitors to the back country safe.

More British Columbians oppose Gateway pipeline after map controversy, ad blitz: poll

This originally appeared on the Tyee blog, The Hook, on December 11, 2012

A new poll suggests that 60 per cent of British Columbians now oppose the proposed Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline. And according to the results, controversy over Enbridge’s tanker route map — which omitted 1,000 square kilometres of islands in the Douglas Channel — didn’t help: 58 per cent of respondents who saw the map said that it worsened their opinion of the project.

Commissioned by the Gitga’at First Nation and carried out by Forum Research, the poll (hosted on this website) is the most recent survey of public opinion surrounding the pipeline project. Forum Research contacted 1,051 British Columbians, asking the same central question as in two other polls they have conducted on the issue: “Are you in favour or opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline which would carry crude oil from the Alberta oil sands across the Rocky Mountains to the BC coast at Kitimat to be shipped by tanker to refineries in Asia?”

The poll comes six months after the start of a major, multimillion dollar ad campaign from Enbridge, which included TV and radio spots, and newspaper and online ads. It found that 86 per cent of respondents had seen some advertising from Enbridge in the last six months. Of those 86 per cent who had seen ads, 46 per cent had not changed their opinions, while 37 per cent said it made their impressions of the project worse.

“We don’t have the resources to fight Enbridge’s multi-million dollar advertising campaigns,” said Cam Hill, Gitga’at councillor, in a statement released with the polling results.

“What we do have is the truth, and the truth is that a single oil spill in B.C.’s coastal waters could wipeout the traditional foods that feed our people. We don’t want dead water.”

Last August, critics attacked Enbridge’s depiction of the Douglas Channel, minus the channel’s many islands, in a promotional video, accusing the company of misleading the public. An Enbridge spokesperson, Ted Nogier,told the Times Colonist that the map was for “illustrative purposes only,” and that it wasn’t to be taken as an accurate depiction of the channel.

Earlier polls from Forum have given similar results, but the trend in their results points toward growing opposition. Last January, opposition was 46 per cent, and by April it was at 52 per cent.

The Tyee has not yet been able to reach Enbridge for comment.

Jimmy Thomson is completing a practicum at The Tyee.