Avalanche kills rider in Core Lodge Area

Trent Ernst, Editor


One man is dead after an avalanche on February 22.

Two others caught in the avalanche were rescued by other riders in their group.

According to reports, seven riders were in the Terminator Peak area, which is part of the Core Lodge Riding area.

Ryan Shelly with Summit Avalanche Consulting was out at the Core Lodge, teaching an avalanche course when the avalanche happened. “I was doing the course a mile or so away, as the crow flies.”

The avalanche occurred at around two in the afternoon. According to the Tumbler Ridge RCMP, they received the call from North Peace Operations at 2:46 pm, advising there had been an avalanche that had trapped three of seven snowmobiles that had departed from Core Lodge.

Shelly says he didn’t know about the avalanche until about 5:00 pm.  “When we finished the course, we headed out into the staging area, and there was an RCMP officer talking to a gentleman who was somewhat distraught. They were preparing to travel into the area.”

Shelly offered to help guide the RCMP out to the area, along with a Tumbler Ridge resident. They met up with the rest of the group near where the avalanche had happened. “Unfortunately based on the information from the group, the avalanche conditions were still very high,” says Shelly. “The only way to access the deceased person would be to expose ourselves to avalanche hazards.”

According to the group, they had spent close to an hour attempting to revive the third individual but he had succumbed to his injuries, and they were not able to move him at that time.

Because of the danger and failing light, the only way to recover the deceased was via helicopter the next morning.

On Monday morning, North Peace Search and Rescue attended the given GPS co-ordinates via helicopter and were able to recover the deceased without further incident.

The name of the deceased is not being released at this time.

While no new snow and warm weather might not seem like avalanche weather, says now is an extremely dangerous time. He says a persistent weak layer from fall has been buried all season, and is now starting to give way with fatal results.

“Conditions are not favourable right now,” says Shelly. He says that, according to the Avalanche Tech, a smaller, secondary avalanche began, which caused the deeply buried weak layer to give way.

“There’s a weak layer of sugary, dry snow that’s buried right near the bottom. Think of it as the kind of snow that you’d never be able to make a snowball out of. It has no moisture content. Due to the volume of snow triggered in the original avalanche, it was enough to trigger the layer at the bottom.”

Shelly says that the group was well equipped for travel in avalanche territory, but by having two snowmobiles on the slope at a time increased the amount of risk and danger for multiple people getting buried. “The individual that was recovered had actually deployed an airbag, but was still buried,” says Shelly. “That gives you a sense of the size of the avalanche.”

The death this weekend was not the only incident in the North. “We had two sledders involved in a slide in Morfee Mountain area near Mackenzie, and there was a full burial on the weekend in Kakwa with the buried guy pulled out alive,” says Shelly. “In one weekend, there were six people buried in avalanches.”

That has James Floyer worried. Floyer is the Senior Public Avalanche Forecaster for Avalanche Canada. He says that what’s happening in the north is unique in the province and seems to indicate a trend.

“It’s a little bit alarming,” says Floyer. “It’s catching people off guard. It seems the snow pack is responding to the warm weather, and deep persistent weak layers appear to be waking up.”

Floyer says the culprit in at least two of these cases appear to be a rain crust from mid-December, which was then topped by a layer of surface hoar. “That surface hoar has lost its cohesion,” he says. “It’s quite a weak layer buried at about a meter-and-a-half and that has woken up. We’re hearing about three large incidents, all human triggered. Unfortunately we don’t get a whole lot of professional reporting from the north, so we’re not sure if it’s the sun, or wind loading or a combination of both.

“When we get three large incidents like this it points to a bit of trend. I’d be concerned travelling in these open bowls, especially north facing slopes, and in terrain that hasn’t been ridden a lot. Unfortunately, we’re seeing folks push to these areas that haven’t been ridden. That combined with the weather has resulted in these incidents.”

Floyer says with conditions in a state of flux, these sort of avalanches can happen at any time. Right now, he says, people are starting to try and find new areas to ride, as the more popular areas have been ridden out. “Maybe we need to back off from some of the steep aggressive riding, especially on north facing bowls. And ride one at a time. These events reinforce the importance of spreading out on the slopes and not committing multiple people on the slope. All three incidents have seen multiple riders. It’s really important to approach these slopes one and a time. When there are multiple people rescuing one person, the chances are much better than the other way around.

The Tumbler Ridge RCMP would like to praise the friends of the deceased for their heroic attempts to resuscitate him by provided emergency medical assistance after the avalanche.

The Tumbler Ridge RCMP would like to strongly encourage outdoor enthusiasts traversing the back country to educate themselves on terrain conditions and essential equipment.