American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall into Crevasse, Unroped, Inadequate Equipment — Alberta, Rocky Mountain, Columbia Icefields

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1985


Alberta, Rocky Mountain, Columbia Icefields

On March 17, 1984, a party of four (30-35) left the Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, to ascend the Athabasca Glacier and spend several days ski mountaineering in the Columbia Icefields area. They had done a considerable amount of ski touring in the Colorado Rockies, but they were new to the Banff/Jasper area. They had been advised, by someone not local to the area, that any crevasses in the Columbia Icefields would be filled with snow.

They ascended the tongue of the Athabasca Glacier in a storm with poor visibility, and covered only four kilometers the first day. They moved farther the next day, stayed in camp two days, moved further up the icefield to the Mount Castleguard area, and spent another two days in camp during poor weather. The party realized it was off route. On March 23, two of the members went out scouting a short distance, and found that they were too far west. About 1300, as these two were skiing back to the others, the snow gave way under the lead skier, and he disappeared into a crevasse through a newly-formed 10 by 20 meter hole. The second skier, who had fallen close to the edge, called into the hole but received no reply. He rejoined the others, but they had no rope, and had no way of attempting a crevasse rescue.

The remaining party marked the site with a shovel, waited until the weather cleared a little, then skied to the toe of the glacier, arriving at 1700. The Jasper Park Warden Service sent in a rescue helicopter, which picked up one of the skiers to help find the accident site, and dropped a rescue crew just before dark. After searching through large blocks of ice and hard snow, the rescue crew dug out the victim’s dead body about 2200, and had it on the surface of the glacier an hour later. The helicopter evacuated the party the next morning. (Source: Jasper Park Warden Service)


The skiers apparently did not understand that crevasses should be expected, and were unprepared for them. All of the party were experienced ski tourists, but only one, the victim, had traveled on glaciers before. It is not known whether he had been exposed to the techniques of safe glacier travel. (Source: Jasper Park Warden Service)

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