NEWS

B.C. Avalanche Death: RCMP Say Heli-Skier Killed Near Revelstoke

12/31/2011 09:06 EST | Updated 03/01/2012 05:12 EST
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REVELSTOKE, B.C. - A holiday adventure turned into a tragedy for a group of heli-skiers in the British Columbia backcountry after one person was killed by the brute force of tumbling snow.

Eleven enthusiasts set out by helicopter Friday with a professional guide to be dropped into powder and criss-cross their way together down the Selkirk run of the mountain range of the same name, near Revelstoke.

An avalanche danger warning was out for that area, in the southern interior, though it did not dissuade the group that was touring with Canadian Mountain Holidays.

They threw caution to the wind and were speeding down the slopes on Friday afternoon when an avalanche was triggered by one of the group.

At an elevation of 1,850 metres, an enormous swath of cold snow broke loose.

It rolled down the Holyk Creek drainage, crushing a path 75 metres wide and for a distance of 250 metres.

Four people wound up underneath.

"Three of which were only partially buried and were able to quickly unbury themselves," said RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk, adding the trio was uninjured.

"The fourth, however — being completely buried — in efforts to locate him were successfully done by utilizing the signals from his person transceiver."

When the 45-year-old Canadian man was dug out, he was unconscious and unresponsive, Moskaluk said.

Emergency protocol was immediately activated by the tour company. A crew including paramedics was flown into the area by chopper, but they could not revive the victim.

He was pronounced dead on arrival at Queen Victoria Hospital in Revelstoke.

The rest of the group was flown off the mountain.

Police were notifying next of kin, and declined to reveal further details of the man's identity.

Canadian Mountain Holidays has been operating for nearly 50 years. Those who book with the company sign an extensive waiver of liability and head out with guides who tend to have at least five years training.

Numerous runs are discussed with clients before the group flies to the setting of a downhill trek, which is coveted for its natural setting and only reachable by chopper. Guides have the opportunity to veto the run if they have any concerns.

At least 10 people have died while on tours with the company over its history. It's believed the last major incident occurred in March 2010.

Two French nationals, aged 65 and 19, died in a slide in a provincial park in the Cariboo Mountain range.

The company did not immediately return calls for comment.

Friday's death is the second avalanche fatality in recent days and the third this season. Thirty-year-old Duncan MacKenzie, a long-time ski patroller, was killed in a snowslide east of Pemberton, B.C. on Thursday.

"A basic message to all is that safe backcountry travel requires training and experience, and that the backcountry user — you control your own risk by choosing where, when and how you travel," Moskaluk said.

He noted search and rescue teams recover people every year as avalanche fatalities, but said it's not possible to predict how a season will turn out.

Last season, 11 people died in Western Canada snow slides. That figure was below the B.C. average of 14.

Two other human-triggered avalanches came down on Friday, both in and out of bounds of the Kicking Horse Mountain resort near Golden.

Mounties said a skier buried by the in-bounds slide was dug out by his ski partner and both skied away on their own, while the slide in the out of bounds area was triggered by three skiers. They all made it safely out of the area.

The Canadian Avalanche Centre has been warning that mild temperatures have created heightened avalanche risks throughout B.C.

— By Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver