Two Whitehorse skiers who survived an avalanche in the coastal Rockies last week say they won't be deterred from returning to the backcountry.
Matt Schenck and Annick Chasse were vacationing at the Shames Mountain Resort near Terrace B.C. and went skiing with another couple out of bounds in the backcountry area of Shames Mountain.
Members of the group had skied the area before. On March 17, their third day of skiing the backcountry, the group went to an area called the Cherry Bowl.
"We checked the cornice to make sure it was stable, we checked the snow pack where we wanted to go down, so everything was good, and we went down," said Chasse. "We went down solid, barely any slough or loose snow."
The group paused after their first run. They saw skiers above them, where Chasse and Schenck's group had begun skiing. When they reached the very bottom, they were no longer in line of sight of the other group of skiers.
"Looking back on it now, we were in an unsafe place to stop," said Schenck.
Schenck went a little farther down the hill. Their group was taking off their skis and packs to put their climbing skins back on when the skiers above set off a slide.
"I heard something and I looked up, and the whole ridge — the top of that second pitch — was exploding," he said.
"You see the powder cloud and the fingers of the snow underneath moving at 100, 200 km/h. I yelled 'Avalanche!' at the top of my lungs."
Schenck grabbed a nearby tree and held on while a cloud of snow swept over him.
"When the sun came back out after all the dust cleared, I was shocked to be still there," he said.
Chasse said she heard Schenck's shouted warning and started running but only made it four or five steps.
She and the two others were swept 300 metres down the mountain under two metres of snow.
"I tried to reach for the sky when I saw an opening but then got buried again," she said.
"You swallow some snow. But It's so thick you could even put your hand in front to do a little air pocket to breathe better. You hear the snow working around you, and when it starts slowing down you hear it seizing, and squeezing you all over, your chest, your arms and then you freeze. It's like cement. You can't even move a little finger."
Chasse said she thought all four of them has been caught by the snow, and that she accepted she was going to die.
"And it was good," she said. "I mean, I had no regrets. I had a good life. It was short, but I was happy."
Schenck ran up the hill and met the skiers who set off the avalanche. Using their avalanche gear, they began looking for the three buried skiers.
The skiers were buried for 20 minutes before their faces were exposed to air. Their rescuers activated their SPOT device, which notified the RCMP, who contacted a local helicopter company to fly to the scene.
All four Whitehorse skiers escaped with no injuries.
“We're lucky because we have another go at it,” said Chasse. “I guess it just wasn't our time."
She added the brush with death hasn't cooled her passion for the sport. But both say they'll do things a little differently when they return to the backcountry.