What You Need to Know About Avalanches in Jasper National Park

As winter arrives and snow starts to accumulate, hikers, skiers and snowshoers always need to be aware of the potential for avalanches in Jasper National Park. Luckily, Parks Canada provides a means to stay up-to-date on current conditions and the Canadian Avalanche Centre provides free online training.

Parks Canada continually monitors avalanche conditions and reports on the current risk of avalanches at the alpine, treeline and below treeline elevations. In the current November 19th report, Parks Canada says “there will be isolated locations that will trigger an avalanche with the addition of a skier’s or climber’s weight.” The current risk is moderate but archived bulletins reveal variation. As the winter goes on, the risk increases. In January 2006, for example, the risk level was rated “considerable” for alpine and treeline elevations.

Up close and personal with a glacier

How can you be prepared if an avalanche does occur? Simple. Get training.

The Canadian Avalanche Association has developed an extensive online avalanche training course and it is 100% free. I highly advise doing this online course if you are planning on winter activities in the avalanche prone areas of Jasper National Park. Even if you have previous training, a refresher may be a helpful reminder.

avalanche training online

The online course is divided into 7 sections including pre-trip preparation, reducing risk in the field, self rescue, companion rescue, post-recovery and more.

During pre-trip preparation, the Canadian Avalanche Association advises trip takers to have clear goals for the trip, be it exercise, traversing through complex terrain or just having a casual outing with friends. Then, make sure everyone going on the trip is compatible with the goals to ensure the utmost safety for everyone.

The course goes on to explain how avalanches form and how to spot places where avalanches have previously occurred. It is important to recognize a recent avalanche not only for rescue but because nearby slopes are likely to be unstable.

avalanche paths

One of the really good exercises in the course is a series of 11 interactive mountain pictures where the challenge is to plot the best path down the mountain. It teaches the tell-tale features of the mountain that indicate a potential for an avalanche.

Another exercise helps to reinforce the steps to take if an avalanche does occur, from when the avalanche starts to what to do when it stops.

The Canadian Avalanche Association also offers instructor lead courses and there is a list on their website.

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