Snowmobiler lucks out in local avalanche

Trent Ernst, Editor

An Alberta snowmobiler’s video has gone viral when a huge slab broke off while he was riding in the Bullmoose area.

Terry Freeman was sledding with a group earlier this month in the Bullmoose area. The group had been climbing slopes on one side of the valley when Freeman decided to try riding on the other side.

A video, recorded by Freeman on his helmet cam, was posted to Facebook and has been shared thousands of time.

In the video, Freeman is riding up a trackless slope, when cracks start appearing in front of his sled. Moments later, a slab avalanche breaks away from a rock face. Freeman, still climbing, rides into the crack, slamming his machine into the rock face.

He falls to the ground, then adjusts his camera to show the avalanche still sliding away. “Whew, that was close,” he exclaims.

Freeman is an avid snowmobiler, but admitted to CTV news that he probably wasn’t as prepared as he should have been. “I didn’t do a good enough assessment of the area, and I know it said on my post that I didn’t seen any indicators, but after reading comments from people, I see them now,” Freeman said in an interview with CTV News. “It was a mistake to go there.”

The next day, Freeman posted the video on his facebook site. In the post, he says he initially didn’t want to share it and worry loved ones. “After much discussion, we decided that the information is too important to not share with present, and future, sledders,” he wrote. “I am not an inexperienced rider, and this slope had no indicators that it might let go. There was no overhang, and the trees were not bent and stripped like you normally associate with slides. This is right beside the other video of me climbing, but the vertical rock face was blown in solid as you can see in the video. This event has realigned my approach to climbing, and I hope that everyone can take away something from my experience. This was very close.”

The video has been watched nearly half a million times. Many of those viewings, says Freeman, where him.

Freeman said he’s watched the video “well over a hundred times” since the slide, and said the signs were there, and he can see them now – which is why he wanted to post it. The video was posted on Facebook February 7, and has been shared thousands of times, viewed more than 400,000 times.

In most cases, Freeman said he looks at how steep a slope is, and looks for an overhang of snow at the top – in this case, he had already climbed nearby, and assumed that it would still be safe.

“Just because something at the surface looks pretty safe, doesn’t mean that it is,” Freeman said.

In a second video, Freeman rides down to check out the avalanche and explains to the camera what happened. “A five, six foot shelf broke off,” he says, as he looks about the chunks of snow, many larger than his sled. “I think I won the lottery today.”

The incident happened the weekend after an avalanche killed five sledders in McBride.

Just this last weekend, another snowmobilier was killed, this time in Golden, BC.

While this hasn’t been a big snow year here in Tumbler Ridge, avalanches are still happening. Trapper Gilowski, an Avalanche Technician with Summit Avalanche Consulting, reports that he observed lots of scoured southwest facing slopes, with heavy wild loading on east facing lee slopes out in the Bullmoose area this weekend. “There is a sandwich of wind slabs in the top 30cm of the snowpack that was reacting in our compression tests in the easy scale for the top 20cm and in the moderate range for the 30cm layer. Down 90cm we have a layer that is reacting on the January crust in the hard scale this layer is resistant to trigger.” This leads to a low probability but high risk layer if an avalanche was to get triggered.

“Practice Safe Travel around wind affected slopes,” says Gilowski. “Play Safe.”