Updates follow at bottom of this story
A heli-skier died in a large avalanche near Revelstoke on the morning of Monday, Mar. 24.
Revelstoke RCMP spokesperson Staff-Sgt. Kurt Grabinsky said the victim is a 45-year-old German national visiting the Revelstoke area to heli-ski.
Grabinsky said the incident happened at about 10:30 a.m., but he had limited details on the incident at this point. He said two RCMP investigators were on scene Monday afternoon completing a field investigation.
A group of four or five people were on a heli-skiing expedition with Canadian Mountain Holidays in a backcountry area about 75 kilometres north of Revelstoke when the avalanche hit, Grabinsky said.
Early descriptions say the avalanche came down from above the victim and was large enough to destroy mature trees in its path. It’s unclear if it was a natural avalanche or human-triggered.
The man was buried by the avalanche. The group launched a rescue effort and he was located “many minutes” later, buried underneath about three metres of snow. The rescuers attempted first aid, but the man died of his injuries.
Another man received minor injuries either in the avalanche or in the rescue effort, and was treated in hospital in Revelstoke and released.
Staff-Sgt. Grabinsky said he had limited information on the incident because the investigation is ongoing at the remote scene. Communications are hindered by the remote location.
He referred further questions to a B.C. Coroners Service spokesperson. Barbara McLintock of the B.C. Coroners Service said a coroner was on scene and further details wouldn’t be available until Mar. 25.
A receptionist with Canadian Mountain Holidays said a spokesperson was not immediately available Monday afternoon after office hours.
The Revelstoke-based Canadian Avalanche Centre’s danger rating forecast for the North Columbia zone was ‘considerable’ for the alpine and treeline and ‘moderate’ for below treeline.
“Very persistent weak layers buried deep in the snowpack remain a major concern and there have been several very large, destructive avalanches in the last couple days on these layers,” wrote the CAC forecaster in their Mar. 24 forecast bulletin for the North Columbia area. “Conservative terrain selection remains crucial at this time.”
Revelstoke RCMP and Revelstoke Search & Rescue were not involved in the original response, Grabinsky said.
An avalanche that destroys mature trees can result when an unusually large slide over-runs its normal path.
Update, Tuesday, Mar. 25. 8:55 a.m.
In a statement posted on the Canadian Mountain Holidays homepage, CMH confirmed the fatality happened at the CMH Adamants tenure, which is served by the CMH Adamants lodge.
They say a group of four guests and one guide were waiting at a helicopter pickup spot when the avalanche came down from above.
The very large category 4 avalanche started at a fracture line at about 2,550 metres and destroyed a 250-metre wide stand of mature timber before reaching the group’s pickup location at 1,400 metres.
The statement said the stand of timber sheltered the pickup location.
One person was fully buried and located via transceiver search and dug out. He could not be resuscitated.
Three guests and a guide were also involved, suffering minor injures.
In the statement, CMH expressed sympathy: “At this time, our deepest sympathies are with the family of the victim. The thousands of guests who ski with us each winter are like our family. It is impossible to put into words the sorrow that we feel and the sorrow that is shared by our guests, their families and all of our staff.”
When reached by telephone on the morning of Mar. 25, CMH Director of Marketing Jeremy Roche said he is busy gathering information and would be available for comment early Tuesday afternoon.
Update, Tuesday, Mar. 25 at 6:15 p.m.
In an interview with the Revelstoke Times Review on Tuesday afternoon, CMH Director of Marketing Jeremy Roche provided more information on the incident.
The group was skiing in the Birthday Bowl ski area in CMH’s Adamanants tenure, and had skied the run three times so far that day. They were awaiting a helicopter at a designated pickup area that CMH has used since the 1980s without incident. Roche said CMH clients had been skiing in the Birthday Bowl area in the past few days.
The stand of trees the avalanche destroyed was 250 metres wide and 150 metres thick. Roche said the slide was exceptionally large and unanticipated considering the historical activity on that avalanche path. That section of trees served, in part, as a protective barrier for the pickup location.
At the time, one guide and four clients were at the pickup location. All five of them were caught up in the slide, but only the deceased man was buried. The four others were not buried and each was able to self-extricate from the avalanche. Some received minor injuries.
A CMH helicopter in the area was able to attend the scene, and more help was summoned via helicopter from Revelstoke and from the CMH Gothics lodge.
Rescuers were able to locate the deceased man “fairly quickly” via transceiver search. “Given the depth of the burial and the mixed debris, it took approximately an hour to recover the victim,” Roche said. The man was buried about three metres down in mixed debris that included broken trees.
Prior to the avalanche, Roche said the party had been skiing in the area adjacent to the slide path.
He said that, at this point, CMH doesn’t know if the avalanche was human- or naturally-triggered. Roche said there were no distinctive terrain features near the avalanche’s starting point.
Roche said guides approved the area for skiing that day. “We ultimately look at runs on a daily basis and approve them or disapprove them for skiing. That run had been approved for multiple days for skiing and we had skied multiple times throughout the day.”