Canada's largest non-profit dedicated to public avalanche safety will issue its final forecast of the season this week.
In a release, Avalanche Canada said it was ending its forecasting about a month earlier than usual with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the closure of backcountry operations across Western Canada. Relying largely on data from a network of avalanche professionals, the pandemic has “cut off much of that data stream, so the warning service is no longer receiving enough information to issue accurate forecasts,” according to the release.
The organization also cited concerns for a healthcare system already strained by COVID-19 as another factor in the decision.
“We do not want to provide a service that promotes recreating in mountainous terrain, where there is often significant hazard,” said Avalanche Canada executive director Gilles Valade in the release. “Both BC and Alberta have declared a state of emergency. Our health authorities, as well as our Prime Minister, are urging people to stay home. This is clearly not the time for taking any sort of risk.”
The final avalanche forecast of the season will be issued on March 28, and will remain in effect until March 30.
Last week, both Avalanche Canada and Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) urged the public to use extreme caution if heading into the backcountry.
Brad Sills, manager of WSAR, noted how the volunteer group’s ability to respond to backcountry incidents had been “considerably restricted” during the outbreak, as it does not have the personal protective equipment needed to guard against transmission.
Sills ultimately called on the province to consider shutting down backcountry recreation for the time being.
"The government has to make some serious decisions here and put on their big-boy pants and do what's required," said Sills, noting that the decision might be unpopular in some circles.
Avalanche Canada will also shut down the Mountain Information Network, an online platform that allows backcountry users to submit trip reports and field observations. Normally a “highly successful strategy for exchanging real-time information,” Avalanche Canada said it does not want the user-generated reports to “serve as encouragement to go into the backcountry.”
“We do not take these steps lightly,” added Valade. “Avalanche Canada is the national public avalanche safety organization and we take our responsibilities very seriously. But we feel it is essential that we work together and do what we can to avoid putting any extra load on our healthcare system at this time.”