British Columbia, Selkirk Mountains North, Durrand Glacier
On January 20, a group of eleven backcountry skiers was caught in an avalanche. Three people were able to extricate themselves and they dug out one injured person. Seven other skiers perished from asphyxia. The avalanche was as much as 30 meters wide and 100 meters long. The bodies of the victims were buried under three to four meters of snow.
As this is not strictly speaking, a ski mountaineering incident, the data is not included in the Tables. This report and the one which follows are included as they were the two most devastating alpine accidents in Canada in 2003. The seeds of the January 20 avalanche were sown in November 2002 when a particularly unstable layer of snow was created at the beginning of a very unusual season. This layer had created problems throughout the season.
The avalanche hazards were rated as “Moderate” at the time of this incident. There was no evidence that the slide was triggered by the skiers and the ski party had not noticed any signs of concern. The avalanche bulletin for January 20 read as follows: “Changes to our snowpack have been occurring very slowly lately. With no significant snow to report in the last few days, our focus remains on the persistent instabilities found in the mid and lower snowpack. Surface hoar buried on Christmas Day now sits roughly 50-75 cm below the surface. This layer can be difficult to find and although strength tests indicate an improving trend, it remains a concern. Near the base of the snowpack a weak crust/facet combination from November persists. AVALANCHES: The frequency of avalanches observed has declined, but their size has not. Each day large avalanches continue to be reported in the Selkirks.”