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Avalanche, Poor Position, Ignoring Hazards to Obtain Objective, British Columbia, Selkirk Mountains, Bruins Pass

AVALANCHE, POOR POSITION, IGNORING HAZARDS TO OBTAIN OBJECTIVE

British Columbia, Selkirk Mountains, Bruins Pass

On March 17, 1993, Fritz B. (33), from Austria, and Herbert F. (50), from Germany, skied up Connaught Creek toward Bruins Pass after checking in at Rogers Pass Ranger Station and reading weather and avalanche forecasts. They had planned this trip the previous day while viewing the area from Little Sifton, judging the snow conditions would be better there than in some other areas.

Upon ascending into the bowl below Bruins Pass, they chose to travel east and north through it, as that route was indicated on their map while other routes were obscured by low cloud and snow. In the upper basin, they traveled high on the east side, staying close to rock outcrops to minimize avalanche potential.

The final section required steep Z-tracks, and Herbert, in the lead, was beginning a kick turn into the final 15 meters to the col, about 30 meters ahead of his partner, when the snow settled and both men were caught in moving snow almost immediately. Herbert was carried about 800 meters downslope in the fast main flow and buried at least a half meter deep with his head down the slope and face down. Fritz was caught in a slower- moving mass from the shallower pack to the side, and carried approximately 300 meters, remaining on the surface. He conducted a beacon search, found and dug out his partner in an estimated 15 minutes, attempted to resuscitate him, then skied out to Rogers Pass to report the accident.

Fritz suggested that his partner might still be alive, and a three-member ground team was initially dispatched to the scene while air support was being arranged. Rescuers were hampered by poor visibility and continuing high avalanche hazard. The victim was located from the air, and teams moved in to his position with avalanche spotters in place; he was found to be dead. The body was placed in a toboggan and transported 800 meters downslope before evacuation efforts were abandoned because of avalanche threat to the rescuers.

The following day, the avalanche hazard remained high, with much activity to size class three, so a decision was made to wait for predicted breaks in the weather and fly to the scene, but the break did not come until late afternoon when the light was failing, and the evacuation was postponed overnight. It was completed on the morning of March 19. Shortly after the evacuation, the fracture-line profile team initiated a class three avalanche which over-ran the evacuation site.

The Coroner determined that the cause of death was asphyxiation; several rib fractures on the left side were attributed to resuscitation efforts. Fritz stated there had been no snow in Herbert's breathing passages, so it is assumed that snow pressure had prevented adequate chest expansion.

Analysis

Both of these men had 20 years of mountaineering and ski touring experience, and were well-equipped and knowledgeable, although neither had taken formal avalanche training. The previous week, they had several disagreements with guides in an area adjacent to the Park, as they wanted to ski slopes which the guides felt to be unsafe at the time, due to the prevailing snow conditions.

During the two days Herbert and Fritz had been in the Park, they took advantage of snow and weather information available there, and discussed routes with local skiers and Parks staff. They triggered avalanches, and allegedly were concerned about the final slopes they ascended. After using safer slopes, they moved onto the wind-loaded 35° slopes over smooth, loose shale with seepage areas, and the leader carried his final traverse into the snow pillow building on the lee side of the col.

The accident was caused by pushing to attain an objective despite awareness of high hazard resulting from bad snow conditions and steep slopes. (Source: Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks Warden Service)