backcountry advice 

As of Feb. 15 Who isn't wondering when it will snow again? I'm not talking about flurries, or 10 centimeters of fluff on a wind-affected bed surface, but a real deep, prolonged series of low pressure systems that keeps us over our heads in pow for a while. The answer seems to be not any time soon. So why should you worry about the snowpack? It's the coast isn't it? Nothing has changed, the hazard rating has been moderate for quite a while and everything has been skied, with little activity to be seen anywhere. But wait, where are you going for that last little stash of untracked pow? Activity has been observed in terrain that rarely gets skied around the ski areas. The terrain tends to be in steep, rocky, shallow snowpack areas. Places we don't usually go. The releases are of isolated, relatively hard slabs that can sweep the trigger (skier, snowboarder...) out of the sketchy terrain they are in over cliffs, or whatever lies below. Another potential concern is cornices, which seem to be very sensitive to light triggers these days. Very large releases of nearly ice-hard snow have been observed fairly frequently over the last week or so. It is an unwise but alarmingly common practice to travel on cornices in order to gain access to some line that looks otherwise attractive. Fortunately this doesn't often end in disaster. Unfortunately, when disaster does strike in the form of a large skier-triggered cornice faliure it is often brutally fatal. As you keep hunting for some fresh snow, further and further from the terrain you are used to skiing, be aware of the difference that skier compaction can make. Keep in mind that this is new terrain, that the snowpack may have hidden, buried surprises that you didn't find in the last drainage, and that maybe its not all good. The backcountry avalanche danger rating for the area adjacent to the Whistler/Blackcomb ski areas on Tuesday, Feb. 15th is MODERATE. The weather forecast is for little change, at least until the weekend. Be aware of where you are, pay attention, and keep hunting.

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