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Avalanche, British Columbia, Glacier National Park, Mount Cheops

AVALANCHE

British Columbia, Glacier National Park, Mount Cheops

On February 1, a high school backcountry ski group comprised of three adults and 14 students was traveling on the Balu Pass Trail, about five kilometers west of the Rogers Pass summit. Parks Canada had warned that avalanches were possible in the higher alpine areas but were unlikely below the tree line, where the group was skiing. The group had been skiing about 15 meters apart, with one supervisor in front and the other two bringing up the rear. The skiers were halfway up the Connaught Creek Valley when the avalanche roared down the north face of Mount Cheops, burying the entire group. The slide began at a point between 2,200 to 2,300 vertical meters up Mount Cheops. It traveled for a kilometer and spread out 500 to 800 meters at the sides. The slide was so large it contained at least 1,000 tons of snow, according to information provided by the Canadian Avalanche Association. The toe of the slide ended at about the 1,500-meter elevation mark with parts of it more than five meters deep.

It is unlikely that this was a skier-triggered slide. Some of the skiers were buried as deep as three meters. The group was carrying the proper ava- lanche-rescue equipment, including personal locator beacons and shovels. Two professional guides happened to be nearby and were able to shout a warning and then come to the prompt assistance of the group. Unfortunately, there were seven fatalities.

Analysis

This tragedy was only about 30 kilometers away from the site of the smaller slide on January 20 (see above report).

This incident is of particular importance as it was instrumental in prompting the proposed changes to the Canadian National Parks regulations. Under the proposed regulations all “custodial groups” involving minors not accompanied by their parents (such as school or youth groups) will not be allowed into the backcountry without professional guides. At the time of the incident, avalanche danger above tree line was rated as “Considerable” but below tree line it was only rated as “Moderate.”