Even when you’re doing everything right when sledding in the backcountry, things can still go terribly wrong.
Curtis Johnson, Gord Bushell, Bruce Moores and Dan Morin learned this during a recent outing at Blue Lake.
The four experienced snowmobilers (Morin and Moores are past presidents of the Eagle Valley Snowmobile Club, and Bushell is the club’s current general manager), were out for day’s sledding in the back country above the club’s chalet and groomed trails. While the avalanche rating was high, the snow conditions were really good in the early morning. But, as it warmed up, conditions started to degrade and snow started sloughing.
“So we went to that area where there’s not a big incline or anything like that,” said Bushell, who noted Johnson was recording their trip with his helmet-mounted camera. “We were just playing it safe and, unfortunately Curtis, if you watch his video, he ended up getting bumped uphill, which got him up on a sidehill. As soon as he started on the sidehill it let go and swallowed him up.”
In the video, posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ErgflozT38, more than two minutes pass before the camera’s lens is uncovered. But Bushell says it was a matter of seconds before Johnson’s face was dug out and they could confirm he was OK.
“Curtis was able to get his hand up, just his glove came up… and Bruce was right there to dig him out, dig his helmet and face out,” said Bushell, adding it took the about 10 minutes to free Johnson completely.
“He couldn’t move. It’s like concrete when it sets up on you after it stops. He was pretty twisted up and everything… we had to be careful to figure out where his feet were. His feet were behind him and the sled was about three or four feet away, and it was completely buried too.”
Calls to Johnson were not returned by press time.
Bushell can be seen in the video digging, with Morin on his left and Moores off camera on his right.
“That was a scary moment,” said Bushell, who estimates the slide was about 20 metres wide.
After Johnson was freed, Bushell said he wanted to carry on, so the four men did just that, stopping for lunch soon after.
“He wasn’t very talkative so I said, ‘it’s time to go, we’re going home.’ So I took Curtis home and Bruce and Dan carried on and finished the day up,” said Bushell.
Despite their extensive sledding experience, Bushell says the incident was educational for all involved.
“It’s a real wake-up call to how little of a slope can slide,” said Bushell.
“We see it all the time, but when you’re actually in it, it’s a different story. I think we all came away from that learning something – just a little avalanche like that – different things you could have done.”
The incident also highlighted the importance of sledding with friends when in the backcountry.
“You’ve got to be prepared and you’ve got to watch your fellow sledders,” said Bushell. “You can’t be wandering off. People that wander off don’t usually have sledders who want to sled with them. When you wander off, things like that happen all the time.”