A Recap Of A Disastrous Holiday Season On Mountains

Filed in News, Safety by . Most recently updated on

No doubt you’ve seen and heard about at least a few of the local accidents that have happened recently, mostly involving avalanches. I thought I would compile a list of articles about the incidents, and some other related articles that have come out in follow up to the tragic events, which discus causes and prevention among other things such as why humans take risks. My heart goes out to all of the friends and families of those who were not lucky enough to escape with their lives in these accidents and I hope they take solace in the fact they died doing what they loved. These events and articles should create safety awareness about respecting ropes, boundaries, avalanche warnings, and the like, and remind you to be prepared for the worst even while inside park boundaries. Also take note that good percentage of the people who got lost or caught in avalanches recently are experienced outdoors men/ women.

Avalanche Warnings Posted at Trailheads

Whistler: Things started off Dec 16, with one tower of the Excalibur Gondola partially collapsing, injuring 12 people. Then, on Dec 22, a 17 year old died while snowboarding in an roped-off run after hitting a boulder, despite wearing a helmet. On Christmas Eve, a 37 year old male suffered the same bad luck, this time while skiing on an open run. If all that wasn’t enough, Whistler/ Blackcomb had 3 avalanches over a two day period Dec 31, and Jan 1, claiming 2 more lives. Both were in areas roped off due to avalanche risk.

Seymour Mountain: On Dec 15, a boy scout was air lifted off the mountain after injuring his knee while snowshoeing. On Dec 25, North Shore Rescue (in their usual greatness) managed to find 3 lost skiers while looking for 2 (that’s an 150% success rate!). You can read the blog post from their website for the full story and the CTV article. Next, in a truly amazing story, a lost snowboarder spent 3 nights on the mountain before being rescued. With no one aware that the man was snowboarding that day, the rescue mission started 2 nights after his car was discovered to be abandoned in the Seymour parking lot.

Cypress: Two snowshoers are lucky to be alive after one fell 50 meters off a slope on a nighttime outing, and the other became stuck trying to rescue him in mid-December.

Lynn Valley: A 16 year old girl fell 4 stories down an embankment in Lynn Creek and suffered a serious head injury on Dec 30. She went to the hospital in critical condition but I was unable to find out how she is currently doing.

Fernie: This obviously wasn’t local, but tragically 8 snowmobilers lost their lives in an avalanche while 3 were able to dig themselves free. There is a Globe and Mail article that discusses how modern technology of snowmobiles allows avid riders to access tougher and more isolated terrain than ever before, elevating risks of accidents.

Snowshoeing

Grouse Mountain: After all this, on Jan 1, four people ignored ski patrol and ducked boundary ropes, launching a rescue mission. Their response is that they did not need rescuing and a lifetime ban from the mountain is too harsh.

Other related articles worth reading:

  • Highly trained unpaid volunteers key to search and rescue operations across Canada – These people have a sometimes rewarding, sometimes incredibly frustrating ‘job’. They deserve A LOT of credit for what they do as volunteers.
  • Backcountry skiers and snowboarders: reckless adrenalin junkies or naive victims?
  • Humans take risks because that’s what we do.  – While it’s easy to be angry at those who took the risk of knowingly going out of bounds, or not paying close enough attention to avalanche warnings, or…etc, etc, etc… I think this article does a good job of putting things in another perspective.

Well, that oughta be enough reading for a while, but please learn from these stories. Now that you’re all scared and/ or depressed, I will find some more uplifting stuff to post about later I promise!

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  1. Vancity Allie - the blog of a Vancouver girl who lives and breathes the West Coast » Blog Archive » “HUMANS TAKE RISKS BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT WE DO” | Jan 6th, 2009
  1. David Hayes says:

    Great post, the more people write about this the more likely someone will happen across it and get some education!

  2. VancityAllie says:

    Great post Karl. You’ve done a lot of work to get this recap fully fleshed out.

    I went on my own rants on my blog. You know how I feel about this ;)

    The CBC article is what really got me worried. Fining and lifetime bans?

    It’s true people need to be more careful and prepared, I’m just not sure this is the best way to enforce it.

    And Tawcan is right, we do not need the general public to start thinking that search and rescue = lots of money. They specifically do not charge for this.

  3. Karl Woll says:

    Tawcan – Yes you are correct, and I missed the official Grouse release on the NSR blog at first also: They were indeed on private land.

    “Moreover, in the case in question, the four individuals transgressed a boundary within Grouse Mountain property. This is not a right to backcountry issue. As a private landowner and the area operator, it is at our sole discretion and responsibility to determine when the terrain on our property is safe to use and to ensure that it is used safely. This is the requirement of the Occupier’s Liability Act. We made that determination, posted boundaries, made a verbal admonishment to the group, and we still found ourselves having to address individuals in a precarious position on our mountain.”

    And in regards to the punishment:

    “It needs to be said too that every case is different. We do not seek to punish those who, through inexperience or honest error, find themselves in trouble and in need of assistance. But to brazenly thumb your nose at signage, roped areas, and a patroller and put yourself and others in danger is not acceptable and cannot go without consequence.”

    Thanks Michelle for the email, I had missed this!

  4. Tawcan says:

    I read the NSR post further… it sounds like the land these skiers went is privately owned by Grouse, not crowd land as previously suggested. If so that it makes sense for Grouse to take away their season pass and ban them for life. Afterall, the land is privately owned. However I have a huge problem on what Grouse is doing with these press releases. For the general public that only get their info from the news they would get the following impressions:

    -If I get into trouble while hiking I’ll have to pay if I get rescued. This is extremely dangerous as NSR wants ppl to call for rescue BEFORE it’s too late.

    -Backcountry skiing = skiers/boarders that duck under the rope. Not the same!!! I can understand ski resorts fining people for entering out-bound area if the resort own the land. However I have a problem for resorts wanting to fine people for accessing the backcountry (crown land) by going through the resort.

  5. Karl Woll says:

    Yes, its an interesting case. They were obviously well prepared and experienced backcountry skiiers who did not need a ‘rescue’. I guess it comes down to the fact Grouse doesn’t want people accessing the backcountry off of their lifts…. If Michelle E reads this post, I’d be interested to hear her take as a Grouse employee!

  6. Tawcan says:

    I’ve been following the story of the 4 skiers on Grouse on NSR’s blog:

    The media did a horrible job covering the story. All the info were released from Grouse’ point of view… the general public seem to group backcountry skiers with skiers/boarders that deck under the rope but in reality, backcountry skiing is more than skiing out of bound. It’s really too bad the recent media coverage painted the wrong pic in average Joe’s mind.

    I’m really worried about public statement released from Grouse. It stated that they’ll charge the 4 skiers for all the rescue cost. NSR’s policy is that they will not charge people for rescue. If the general public get the impression that rescue = lots money then when average Joe gets into trouble in North Shore instead of calling for rescue he might try to “figure it out” himself… which may potentially cause more harm than good.

    Anyway enough rant from me. :)