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Fall on Snow, Avalanche, Poor Position—Ski Mountaineering, British Columbia, Coast Mountains, Kitimat Range near Europa Lake

FALL ON SNOW, AVALANCHE, POOR POSITION—SKI MOUNTAINEERING

British Columbia, Coast Mountains, Kitimat Range near Europa Lake

On May 21, 1994, five ski mountaineers were about two weeks into the traverse from Mussel Inlet to Gardner Canal. Four of them left their big packs, including an emergency locator transmitter, on a glacier with the fifth party member, and set off on a side trip to climb an unnamed 1860-meter peak south of the east end of Europa Lake. Not far from the summit, they reached a steep 15-meter step in the glacier, for which they briefly removed their skis to kick steps up hard snow to the more gentle slope above, where skis were again used for the short climb to the summit. After reaching the top, Randy S. (31) and John Clarke started down first, skiing toward the steep section. Following Randy to the top of it, John stopped to assess the situation, and saw Randy sliding down the slope below, in a sitting position, until he disappeared from view because of the convexity of the slope. John was alarmed, as he knew the slope ended in a cornice and Randy was almost certain to go over it. He removed his skis and climbed down to the lip, where he saw that Randy had fallen down a small cliff onto a snow slope, triggering an avalanche which carried him over an edge and out of sight. He called out, but got no response from Randy. When the other two party members arrived from the summit, they did an avalanche transceiver search, without success. They hurried down to their companion waiting on the glacier, and activated the ELT before skiing around to the next valley to reach a position below the site of the accident. They found Randy’s smashed Pieps and camera at the base of a 300-meter face, but little else.

On May 22, Canadian Armed Forces searchers responding to the ELT signal arrived from Comox, Vancouver Island, in a Labrador helicopter and spotted Randy’s body about 100 meters above the base of the cliff. Later, in a complex operation coordinated by the Provincial Emergency Program (P.E.P.) in Vancouver and assisted by specialists from the Banff National Park Warden Service, a helicopter with 15-meter sling, piloted by Joe Meiers from Northern Mountain Helicopters in Smithers, B.C., was used to reach the body and pluck it from the face. (Source: John Clarke)

Analysis

The risk is always obvious after the fact. Mountaineering is a continuous exercise in predicting consequences and evaluating hazard. Often the key to safety is the ability to see far enough along the chain of possible events to appreciate the real hazards present. In this case, the victim, a strong skier, did not show due regard for the serious exposure of the short steep slope where he fell. He should have taken off the skis and climbed down to easier or less exposed terrain. (Source: Tim Auger, Banff National Park; John Clarke; Orvel Miskiw)