A helicopter being used by Revelstoke Search and Rescue for the rescue of the five backcountry skiers and their deceased friend takes off from Revelstoke Airport.

UPDATE 3: Ghost Peak avalanche fatality technical details released

A backcountry ski-touring adventure went tragically wrong on Sunday when a skier died in an avalanche near Ghost Peak near Revelstoke.

(Editor’s note: Our original story is posted at the bottom. Updates are being posted in blog format above the original story.)

Update, Thursday, Mar. 15, 12:45 p.m.

A report on the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) website sheds new light on the Ghost Peak Avalanche. The CAC prepares technical reports on avalanche incidents involving fatalities, as well as lesser avalanche incident.

The report says six skiers were skiing in between Ghost Peak and the peak of Mt. Cartier at an elevation of 2038 metres

Four skiers waited at the top while two descended. One of the two held up part of the way down while the other skied through cliffs and trees to a lower slope. It was the skier who held up higher on the slope who noticed the slide. He shouted “avalanche” and blew a whistle to alert the others.

After the avalanche stopped, the others were able to quickly locate and dig out victim David Ng. They began CPR and continued for 30 minutes before ending their attempt to revive him.

They also called for help on a satellite phone immediately.

The report notes the slide was a size “2” and was about 200 metres wide and 150 centimetres deep.

A note in the report says the skiing party had done a pit test on a nearby slope and had noted a layer of hoar frost about 125 centimetres down. Hoar frost is formed on cold, clear nights when a layer of frost forms on top of the snow. A layer of hoar frost is considered to be very weak. Snow atop the layer can slide on this weak, lubricating layer.

The CAC report also notes the helicopter that brought Revelstoke SAR members to the scene on Sunday had to turn back due to “horrid flying conditions” including high winds, blowing snow and ice forming on its rotors.

There is no direct link to the report on the CAC website, but it can be easily found using this CAC search tool.

Update, Wednesday, Mar. 14, at 10:40 a.m.

The victim of the Ghost Peak avalanche incident on Mar. 11 has been identified as David Ng, 32, of Calgary.

Interior Regional Coroner Mark Coleman said that Ng was buried in an avalanche of unknown size just after 3:30 p.m. He was wearing an avalanche beacon and other members of his party worked to dig him out.

It took them about 30 minutes to free Ng, but it was too late.

Coleman said at this point the Coroners Service only has preliminary information and couldn’t comment on the size of the avalanche or how it was triggered.

Coleman said that the BC Coroners Service does liaise with the Canadian Avalanche Centre to utilize their expertise during investigations related to avalanche deaths.

Update, Tuesday, Mar. 13, at 2:20 p.m.

Revelstoke RCMP released a brief media statement just after 2 p.m. They said the victim of the avalanche was a 33-year-old man from Calgary. The also said four of the group were from Calgary while one was from Fernie.

They said the group were all experienced backcountry skiers who had been skiing together for years.

Update, Tuesday, Mar. 13, at 2 p.m.

The Times Review met briefly with two men involved in the incident. They had just completed giving statements to the RCMP inside a hangar at the Revelstoke Airport. They both looked to be without any injuries.

The pair said they weren’t prepared to give statements or interviews at this point. They also said they might contact the Times Review in a couple of days. One man said his interest was providing information about the incident so that others could learn from it.

They wouldn’t provide their names or any other identifying information.

Update, Tuesday, Mar. 13, at 12:20 p.m:

The body of a man who died in avalanche near Ghost Peak on Sunday and his five companions, who survived, were retrieved from the mountains southeast of Revelstoke Tuesday morning by Revelstoke Search and Rescue.

SAR confirmed that the five survivors were evacuated from the are by helicopter at around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The body of the lone victim was retrieved about an hour later.

Six SAR members took part in the operation.

Here is the previous story posted Monday evening:

A backcountry ski-touring adventure went tragically wrong on Sunday when a skier died in an avalanche near Ghost Peak just south of Revelstoke.

Revelstoke RCMP say they got the call about the incident at about 4:40 p.m. on Sunday, March 11. A group of six were ski touring in the Ghost Peak area, which is located just to the east of Mt. Cartier. An avalanche buried at least one man in the touring party. His companions were able to find the man using a beacon search. They dug him out, but he died.

Revelstoke Search and Rescue have attempted to reach the group, but weather conditions only allowed them circle overhead in a helicopter before retreating back to Revelstoke due to very high winds in the alpine. They were unable to get any supplies to the group.

Revelstoke RCMP spokesperson Staff Sgt. Jacquie Olsen said many details remain sketchy at this point because communications are hampered. “They have a [satellite] phone [but] we’re having difficulties contacting them,” she said. “They power it off when they don’t need it.”

The Times Review has learned that the other five skiers touring with the man remain stranded at the scene. They are sure to spend at least tonight on the mountain, and possibly more nights due to an impending storm.  “The long-range forecast for this whole area is ugly,” Olsen said. “Trust me, they’re not going to move. There’s no way out of there.”

The area around Ghost Peak is a series of rocky alpine peaks and valleys. Olsen said they were dropped off there by helicopter, but that the trip was not a commercial guided ski trip. It’s unclear if one of the persons with them was guiding them on an informal tour.

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Ghost Peak is visible from sidecountry terrain at nearby Revelstoke Mountain Resort on Mount Mackenzie. Today high winds forced the closure of the Stoke Chair that leads to the alpine at that resort. Conditions are expected to deteriorate in the coming days.

Olsen said wind gusts reached upwards of 80 kilometres per hour today, pushing the wind-chill factor well below minus 20 Celsius in the alpine.

Winds are expected to pick up in Revelstoke tonight, reaching 30 kilometres with gusts of up to 50 in the valley. Alpine conditions are usually much more severe. Between 10 and 15 centimetres of snow is forecast for the alpine overnight.

The RCMP are not disclosing where the party is from. “I will confirm that they are not Revelstokians, to the best of my knowledge. I can’t say every one of them is not – to the best of my knowledge they are not.”

Despite the oncoming storm conditions, Olsen said the group is expected to be fine. “They have shelter, they have food,” she said, noting they brought a yurt with them in anticipation of a multi-day ski touring adventure. “They’re going to be fine.”

Early unconfirmed reports had one person dead and another injured, but Olsen said it remained unknown if there were any injuries in the avalanche. “There’s no indication that there’s injuries,” Olsen told the Times Reveiw. “It doesn’t mean there isn’t, but we have no indications that there are.”

The Revelstoke Search & Rescue office is located in the same building as the Revelstoke RCMP detachment. By 4:30 p.m., searchers had gone home after they called off any possibility of a search that day. “You can’t get up,” Olsen said. “The decision’s been made. We do not have any weather window to do anything today.”

“We’re going to re-assess in the morning as to whether or not we’re going to have a weather window,” she added. “There’s a potential for a weather window tomorrow and there’s a better potential for a weather window on Wednesday.”

Expect television media coverage of the rescue attempts in the coming days. Olsen said she’d been contacted by regional TV crews, some of whom are on en route to Revelstoke.

At the Canadian Avalanche Centre office in Revelstoke, executive director Ian Tomm said he too had been “slammed” with media enquires about the incident today. He noted the special avalanche warning effective over the weekend had been rescinded as of Monday, but that didn’t mean conditions had improved. “Mother nature is continuing to pound, so be careful out there.”

On Sunday, the Canadian Avalanche Centre’s avalanche bulletin for the area where the avalanche occurred put the risk of avalanche at ‘high’ in the alpine and treeline and ‘considerable’ below the treeline.

The Canadian Avalanche Centre had issued a special avalanche warning covering this past weekend. In a story posted to revelstoketimesreview.com on Friday, Ilya Storm, the CAC’s Public Avalanche Warning Services Coordinator, warned of dangerous avalanche conditions in the area. “We have a variety of issues within the snowpack right now that cause us two main concerns,” Storm said. “The first is that the size of avalanches is likely to be much bigger than might be expected and could be triggered remotely, which means triggered at a distance or from the bottom of the slope. Our other main concern is that slopes generally considered safer – lower angle, below treeline – are primed for human triggering.”

He added that local knowledge and a high degree of training was key in travelling safely in the avalanche terrain over the weekend.

“Knowing the slope history is key to good decisions right now,” he said. “And make sure you park in safe spots — well to the side of any avalanche path or far away from the runout zone. Given the size of recent avalanches, the bottom of runout zones this weekend might be father than you think.”

Revelstoke RCMP are not releasing the identity of the deceased. In a statement, the RCMP stressed the importance of checking and heeding avalanche forecasts when planning a trip to the backcountry.

Ski touring and heli-skiing are different activities. Heli-skiing replaces a ski lift with a helicopter. Heli-skiers are ferried up ski slopes many times in a day. Ski touring means human-powered skiing through the backcountry with special ski equipment. This party was ski touring, but they were lifted by helicopter to their starting point in the alpine.

With files from Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review

Note: A sentence in this article about the formation of hoar frost was changed to be more accurate.

***

Are you a friend or relative of one of those in this ski touring party? Please contact Revelstoke Times Review editor Aaron Orlando at 250-837-4667. If you’re calling after hours, please contact me via instructions provided on the answering message at that number. The Times Review has been following this story since Sunday, but due to a windstorm-caused power outage in B.C. that affected our servers, we were unable to post and update this story earlier. We apologize for the inconvenience and delay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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