Funds for avalanche forecasting

Next winter, the Yukon will have its own avalanche forecasting system. The Yukon Avalanche Association is developing the two-year pilot project with the help of more than $800,000 in federal grants.

Next winter, the Yukon will have its own avalanche forecasting system. 

The Yukon Avalanche Association is developing the two-year pilot project with the help of more than $800,000 in federal grants.

“All of the mountain regions in Canada, with the exception of some remote areas in the Northwest Territories, have avalanche forecasting. Now it’s our turn,” said Kirstie Simpson, the president of the Yukon Avalanche Association.

The project will focus on the White Pass and Wheaton River Valley areas, because of their proximity to Whitehorse and popularity among backcountry enthusiasts.

Forecasting avalanches is dependant on timely and accurate data, something the Yukon currently lacks, said Simpson.

“We really needed to beef up our amount of data,” she said.

To do this, the association will be building two new remote weather stations and a snow-measuring station.

They will also be hiring some seasonal avalanche technicians to collect field data, and a part-time avalanche forecaster based in BC.

Predicting avalanches is a more precise science than weather forecasting, said Simpson.

While the weather is one piece of the puzzle, avalanche forecasting considers several factors.

“The meteorology is a small part if it,” said John Kelly, operations manager of the Canadian Avalanche Centre. “The real skill is in making sure we know what the state of evolution of the snow pack is, what are the ongoing avalanche occurrences, their size and propagation.”

While Simpson’s association is working on collecting data, they have partnered with the avalanche centre, based in Revelstoke, BC, to make the actual predictions and posting them on the internet.

“What we will be doing is consolidating the data and producing standardized forecasts,” said Kelly.

While the forecasts will look standardized, the process of collecting data will be unique to the Yukon.

“It’s going to have a recipe that’s very Yukon flavoured, focused on collaboration between professionals, armatures and partnerships with organizations,” said Kelly.

If everything goes as planned this pilot project will be granted permanent funding.

“We basically have to prove that we can do this, and then we have to create a sustainable program out of it,” said Simpson.”

With the increasing popularity of backcountry recreation in the Yukon, there is a real need for this kind of forecasting, she said.

“In the last 25-years there’s been a steady increase in backcountry skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers,” said Simpson. “Now we’re kind of a destination location for tourism in the wintertime.”

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com

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