The weather station on the Renshaw. This diagram shows the information collected by each of the instruments on the station. All nine of the Avalanche Canada weather stations look very similar. /AVALANCHE CANADA PHOTO

By Andrea Arnold

Not all information collected in avalanche forecasting comes from technology in instruments.

Avalanche Canada relies on information gathered from weather stations scattered across the province along with onsite data collected by field teams to help generate daily avalanche bulletins. The national avalanche safety non-profit also uses observed data sent in from recreational users. 

“We love to see public input,” said Ryan Buhler, Forecast Program Supervisor with Avalanche Canada.

One of these stations is located in the Renshaw snowmobile area. It is one of three stations located in the North Rockies. The others are in the Kakwa and the other, near Tumbler Ridge at Core Lodge, providing broad coverage across the Rockies.

“Avalanche Canada has nine weather stations, four in the Yukon, two in the Smithers area as well as the three in the North Rockies,” said Buhler.

The station up the Renshaw is a seasonal installment. It is erected at treeline in the fall and taken back out in the spring. Any major yearly maintenance is taken care of during the summer months, and minor work is completed by the field teams.

The information gathered by the weather stations can be found on the Avalanche Canada website, by clicking on the little weathervane icons.

It displays the amount of snow, how much new snow has fallen each hour, average air temperature, wind speed, direction and gust speed as well as relative humidity.

On the map page users also have an opportunity to create a Mountain Information Network (MIN) report. The reports are added to the map image as blue droplet icons. When site users click the icon, they are able to read first-hand accounts of what other backcountry users have seen. There is also a place in the report where images can be uploaded.

The weather stations do not report avalanche activity. Buhler says It is important for people who witness activity or have notes of caution to file MIN reports to help keep others safe. 

A perfect example of this is an avalanche that occurred over the weekend up the Renshaw. A video of the sled triggered slide has been circulating on social media, but no details are available through Avalanche Canada as of Monday. Those involved have not submitted information into the network, and a field crew has not visited the site. It appears from the video that no one was seriously injured in the incident.

With input from recreational users, avalanche experts, field teams and weather stations, Avalanche Canada is able to issue accurate and detailed daily bulletins.

“Our strength is in the robust data sharing between professionals,” said  Buhler. “If you take away any of these, the daily bulletin would not be possible.”

Another reference source for anyone heading out on the highway or in the backcountry, is ARFI located at ARFI is a collection of avalanche forecasting resources, tools, and research models collected into a map-based program. It is designed to help private and public avalanche forecasters, guides, and recreationalists in B.C. and Alberta.