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New avalanche ratings will Help trip planners take reasonable care.

The last few winters have seen a number of tragic deaths resulting from avalanches, including a particularly' tragic episode when several students died during a school field trip.

Parks Canada has developed a new set of Avalanche Terrain Ratings, to be used with the daily Avalanche Bulletins, to assist people in assessing the risks and making planning judgments regarding back country trips.

The traditional Avalanche Bulletins have been based largely, on the stabiliy of snow, which changes regularly in relation to the weather--from day to day, or even hour to hour. The new Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale attempts to measure how risky the landscape is from the perspective of avalanche hazards. Terrain doesn't change much. The angle and shape of the ground, or the number of established avalanche paths won't vary from day to day.

There are three Classes in the Terrain Rating

Simple--Class 1

"Exposure to low angle or primarily forested terrain. Some forest openings may involve the runout zones of infrequent avalanches. Many options to reduce or eliminate exposure. No glacier travel." Common sense, the right equipment, first aid skills, and the discipline to respect the avalanche warnings you see in the media are key in this terrain.

Challenging--Class 2

"Exposure to well defined avalanche paths, starting zones or terrain traps; options exist to reduce or eliminate exposure with careful routefinding. Glacier travel is straightforward but crevasse hazards may exist."

"You will need to know how to understand the Public Avalanche Bulletin, perform avalanche self rescue, basic first aid, and be confident in your group's routefinding skills. It is strongly advised that you and other members of your group, take a Recreational Avalanche Course (RAC) prior to traveling in this type of terrain. If you are unsure of your own, or your group's ability to evaluate and navigate through avalanche terrain, then consider hiring a professional, certified guide to lead you."

Complex--Class 3

"Exposure to multiple overlapping avalanche paths or large expanses of steep, open terrain; multiple avalanche starting zones and terrain traps below; minimal options to reduce exposure. Complicated glacier travel with extensive crevasse bands or icefalls."

"Often there are no safe options in Class 3 terrain, forcing your exposure to significant avalanche terrain. As a minimum, you or someone in your group must have taken an Advanced Recreational Avalanche Course (ARAC) and have several years of backcountry experience ... If you are uncertain but want to experience complex terrain, then we strongly recommend hiring a certified, professional guide to lead you."

This information has been excerpted from the Parks Canada website and you should refer to the full discussion of the new classes on that site at, then do a search using keyword 'avalanche' to find Avalanche Terrain Ratings, as well as consulting the Canadian Avalanche Association site for more information.

The Parks Canada Agency has done its best to provide accurate information and to describe the terrain characteristics typical of each general region. However, users of this information do so entirely at their own risk, and the Parks Canada Agency disclaims any liability for injury, injury resulting in death or damage to anyone undertaking a trip into any of the regions described. This information is no substitute for experience and good judgment.
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Title Annotation:News & notes
Author:Mildon, Marsha
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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