American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Avalanche, Fall, Inadequate Equipment, Quebec, Charlevoix Mountains, Montagne Blanche

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1986

AVALANCHE, FALL, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT Quebec, Charlevoix Mountains, Montagne Blanche

At 1515 on March 3, 1985, a party of experienced skiers was approaching base camp at the end of a tour around Montagne Blanche. They were on a ski-mountaineering training exercise, but had decided not to ascend the mountain because of high winds, estimated at 70 km/h. They were on a gentle slope around 500 meters elevation, near the tree line, just above a steeper slope that was clear of trees, and which seemed to be inviting a downhill run. One skier (23) started down, followed by a second, Jacques (24), who fell on the slope one third of the way down. Another skier (23) started down, triggering an avalanche near the top of the slope. The avalanche swept over Jacques and buried him before he had time to get up. It then caught the lower skier, but he was carried to the bottom of the slope unharmed. The snow finally came to rest in the form of thick blocks that looked like seracs packed together.

The trip leader closed the slope to further skiing, and organized a search, using everyone present. The searchers lined up facing downhill, and probed with skis, starting from where Jacques was last seen. Within ten minutes, they found one of his skis. They continued to dig. Occasionally they detected something beneath the snow, which, on excavation, proved to be a buried tree. The wind became all the more biting after sunset, with a temperature of -25°C. Three of the searchers had frozen feet. Finally, at 1915, well after dark, the search was abandoned, since there was no longer any hope of finding Jacques alive. The trip leader had retained all 12 people for the search while there was still any possibility of finding Jacques alive, but now he sent two messengers to Anse St. Jean, two hours away.

The next morning, the Quebec Provincial Police sent a helicopter with a search dog and its handler. They found Jacques’ body lying face down under two meters of snow in the place where he had fallen, eight meters uphill from where his ski had been found. (Source: Jean Rondeau, Federation Quebecoise de la Montagne)

Analysis

There had been rain the day before the accident, followed by temperatures falling to -20°C the day of the accident. The snow was 1.5 meters deep at the crest of the slope, where it parted, exposing ice-covered rock. The skier was particularly unfortunate to have fallen just before the avalanche swept over him.

Probing with two-meter skis is clearly inadequate when the victim is two meters beneath

the snow surface. Recommendations for the future: more avalanche instruction, avalanche radio beacons, avalanche-probe ski poles. (Source: Jean Rendeau, Federation Quebecoise de la Montagne)

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