If you're thinking of recreating in the backcountry today or anytime over the New Year's long weekend you should exercise extreme caution and check the Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) Bulletin carefully before you go out.
As much as 15 to 30 centimetres of snow fell over a wide part of the Rocky and Purcell Ranges Wednesday, creating great conditions for snowmobilers and backcountry skiers but the conditions can also turn deadly in an instant.
Avalanche conditions in the alpine were rated as "considerable" on Wednesday and moderate or low below the treeline. But changing winds and dropping temperatures can push the danger level to extreme in some circumstances and recreationalists have to know how to recognize these circumstances.
"Ratings for treeline are based on light winds accompanying the new snow Wednesday. If local gusts whip up a wind slab, think considerable danger," said the bulletin Wednesday.
Cold weather Thursday and Friday is expected to follow Wednesday's big dump and this should reduce the avalanche danger, according to Wednesday's bulletin. With the wind changing from the southwest to the northwest, potential avalanche-causing windslab is building up on northeast, southeast and eastern slops and these areas should be avoided, said a "special message" in the Avalanche Bulletin.
If you decide to go out in the backcountry, certain equipment is considered "essential." The "Big Three" are a beacon, a probe and a shovel. Beacons send out a radio signal that can help greatly to locate a buried snowmobiler or skier and interlocking, telescoping probes that snap together and are used to physically pinpoint a buried person under the snow and can save valuable time in rescuing them.
Shovels are generally made of light-weight and strong aluminium and good ones have extendable handles for digging out deeply buried victims.
Recommended equipment includes avalanche airbags, which have been developed in recent years, and help greatly to keep people caught in slides from being buried too deeply. However, the CAA warns that avalanche airbags aren't magic devices and the user has to know how to set them up and deploy them properly if they're going to help.
Helmets are also a good safety device in the backcountry because people often suffer head trauma when caught in slides which can throw them against trees and rocks at high speed. Ski bindings that also release easily can also be a life-saving device when buried deeply in a slide.
Technology is also moving quickly in the backcountry recreational field and some equipment that was considered standard a few years ago is now considered obsolete. This includes dual frequency beacons from the 1980's that don't transmit or receive well. Three antennae, digital beacons are generally considered the state of the art today.