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Backcountry bulletin: 'March can be a real trickster when it comes to avalanche conditions'

March is historically the deadliest month in the avalanche world, say Avalanche Canada forecasters
pemberton backcountry storm conditions
As warmer temperatures begin to arrive this March, backcountry conditions in Whistler and the rest of the Sea to Sky zone can change rapidly, say Avalanche Canada forecasters

It’s March! Congratulations, we’ve made it through the worst of the cold snaps, the dark mornings, the hoards of powder seekers on road trips. The air is getting warmer, the days longer, and spring is so close you can taste it. Visions of corn skiing in a t-shirt and sunglasses are starting to crop up in your daydreams.

Hold on a minute! Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. March has more than its share of snowpack woes to navigate and is historically the deadliest month in the avalanche world.

March can be a real trickster when it comes to avalanche conditions.The weather can be erratic, with rapid fluctuations between cold/warm, snow/rain, and lambs/lions; and whenever the sun pokes out, it packs a punch.

These weather fluctuations result in a stack of upper snowpack structures like crusts that further complicate an already complex snowpack. Remember, the snowpack still contains every buried instability we’ve dealt with over the season. After sitting dormant for weeks or even months, these layers can be shocked back to life with the first significant warmups, which typically occur in March.

We can’t blame it all on the weather. An array of human factors can play on our own minds as well. We can become more susceptible to “blue sky syndrome.” The allure of longer and warmer days can lead us to let our guards down in favour of bagging big lines we’ve been eyeing all season long.

So how do we manage all of this? The short answer is be patient. It will be April soon enough. The warm weather that is so destabilizing in the short term eventually tames the snowpack into a much more homogeneous and predictable entity.

For more nuanced nuggets of terrain travel wisdom, read more on this topic in the latest forecaster blog at!

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