The South Rockies Field Team – A Local Connection to a National Organization

The South Rockies field team is one of Avalanche Canada’s six field teams. Our team of three avalanche professionals is passionate about empowering safe backcountry adventures and working together to collect critical information about the snowpack in the backcountry surrounding Crowsnest Pass, Elkford, Sparwood, Fernie, and Elko.

"Why this area?" That’s a good question. Avalanche Canada's forecasting program depends on precise data to create accurate forecasts, particularly in otherwise data-sparse regions like the expansive South Rockies. Our team ventures into these mountains to investigate the snowpack, identify concerning layers, and provide avalanche and weather observations crucial for the avalanche forecasts.

Our day always begins with a thorough hazard assessment. We analyze weather data and combine it with our knowledge about the snowpack to identify avalanche problems, their location, and the likelihood of triggering. We then consider the weather forecast to assess its potential impact on the avalanche hazard.

Once the hazard assessment is complete, we develop a plan for the day and match our terrain choices to the expected conditions. Another critical step during this trip-planning stage is to check in with each other to ensure we are mentally and physically healthy and have compatible expectations for the day.

The gear is the next important step in our day. We pack our probes, shovels, first aid, emergency gear, and extra layers of clothing into our packs. Then we check our transceivers for battery life and function before putting them on. 

Only now are we ready to leave the base and head into the mountains, but the work is just really getting started. We’re constantly looking for information about the snow, even as we travel to the trailhead. We’re watching for recent avalanches, wind, changes in temperature, and other clues that the snowpack might be unstable. This is constant from the moment we leave the office until we head home in the evening. The snowpack is changeable, and we must be vigilant and adaptable. 

Of course, the information we collect is about more than keeping our team safe. It’s about keeping you safe, too, and we want to share what we find far and wide.

We start with a report to the forecaster, where we communicate our findings and they incorporate them into the forecast.  

We also share what we find through our social media channels and the Mountain Information Network, which is a peer-to-peer information sharing network hosted on avalanche.ca. A good field day is one that uncovers information that keeps others safe. 

Following us on social media is an effortless way to receive timely, bite-sized conditions updates, and avalanche safety tips directly into your feed. It’s a fun way to stay connected to the snowpack and current conditions of the area.

As we move into winter, the South Rockies Field Team looks forward to another season serving the backcountry community. You’ll be able to find us at several community events, like the Elk Valley Snow and Avalanche Workshop, the Fernie Snowmobile Association's Avalanche Awareness Days, and the CrowSnow Riders Poker Run. We hope to see you there or out in the mountains enjoying a safe and (hopefully) powdery winter!

Lisa Larson heads the South Rockies Field Team as Lead Field Technician, and has deep roots in the region. Her childhood was spent skiing at Fernie Snow Valley, before working at Castle Mountain Resort. Today, she calls Crowsnest Pass home and passionately embarks on backcountry adventures across the South Rockies alongside family and friends. avalanche.ca