Kootenay Pass Avalanche Fatality details
Some details of the Kootneay Pass avalanche from last week as posted on Shredor.com by Morgan Lipscomb who was apparently at the scene. An interesting read and a sober reminder to play it on the safe side.
The crown of the large sympathetic avalanche spans the entire width of the photo.
"On the morning of Sunday, 2/23/2014, Drew met me in Kootenay Pass. After spending a week in the pass with minimum split boarding, I was stoked to shred some powder. Patrick a classmate from my CAA Level 1 course, also met with us for the tour. We started our day touring up Lightening Strike Ridge, with the plans of riding some West facing glades. The avalanche danger was rated considerable, because of a buried surface hoar layer, covered by a meter of storm snow that had accumulated over the past week.
Halfway down our first run, we crossed paths with a party of two, who were heading to the parking lot to call for help, as their friends had triggered and been injured in a large avalanche. They said there were two individuals still at the scene, one of whom had a broken leg. Being avid backcountry riders, and understanding the seriousness of the situation, we switched over and toured to the incident site to lend some help. Arriving on the scene, we quickly understood the seriousness of the situation. When we first caught sight of the slide, victim #1 was giving compressions to victim #2, who had stopped breathing 15 minutes prior to our arrival.
**Not knowing the victims, and not being involved in the decisions made leading up to the accident, I will keep my words short. But this was a life altering experience and can be learned from.**
From my understanding, the the victims dropped in off the ridge into a steep "tree chute". 3-4 turns into the slope they triggered a slide and two individuals were caught and pushed down the steep slope. This slide swept them down slope 600-700', raking them through trees and over rocks. When the slide reached and open, less steep bench it sympathetically triggered a large size 3 avalanche. Average crown depth of this avalanche was 3', and it propagated 300-400' across slope and 200-300' up slope. This slide ran 600-700' further down to valley bottom and triggered 2 more sympathetic releases, on its way. Although the victims managed to stay above this large avalanche, and came to rest on the staunchwall of the large slide, they had suffered serious trauma from being raked down the steep slope above.
That afternoon our group hung out with the victims for over three hours until Search and Rescue arrived. We kept victim #1 warm and monitored her status, gave continued compressions to victim #2, and kept an eye out for further avalanches. Victim #2 was never revived, and passed away on the scene. Victim #1 was evacuated that evening, and was lucky to be alive. Im told she suffered a lacerated spline, damaged liver, broken ribs, and a punctured lung.
We were grateful to see Search and Rescue crews arrive just after 4 pm. They took over the situation, and evacuated Victim #1 back to the highway. With fading daylight, they were forced to leave deceased victim #2 to be picked up the next day. It took SAR crews over 3 hours to arrive and an additional 6 hours to get the injured victim #1 back to the highway. Evacuation efforts took a long time, because the slopes from the victims location, down to the valley bottom were steep, and the victim had to be repelled the entire way.
Not being in the group who triggered the avalanche, and only being involved in aftermath, it is hard to analyze this accident in terms of decision making and the human factor. I do think there are a few important things to take away from the accident.
One being, the nature of backcountry skiing, and the inherent dangers we subject ourselves too every time we go on a hike into avalanche terrain. This event occurred on a Sunday, and a busy powder day in Kootenay Pass. There were many people touring this day, who were riding steep lines and testing the snowpack as this group had done. Many other groups were doing this, un-aware to the fact that just around the corner, a fellow backcountry skiers was dying from making a similar decision.
Conservative decision making is essential if one is going to live through a life of backcountry skiing. One wrong decision or one lapse in judgement can take your life. Backcountry riding is a dangerous game, and you are gambling with your life. It is easy to become complacent when you are having successful trips and not experiencing or seeing accidents. But one must always stay on guard, continually asses safety, stay situationally aware, and MAKE CONSERVATIVE DECISIONS.
In terms of accidents in the backcountry, this was a sad and tough learning experience. It also showed how difficult it truly is to remove and injured person from the backcountry. Although we were not far from the highway (1-2 miles), it took 20 SAR personnel over 6 hours to pull Victim #1 off the slope, out of danger, and back to the road. If this incident had occurred further from the rode, the victim likely would have had to spent the night in the backcountry, and likely would have died from her internal injuries.
I am writing this up from a learning perspective, so myself and others may learn from this incident. I understand this is a short explanation of the accident, and doesn't really do it just. I just wanted to write something about the events that day while it was still fresh in my mind. Still, I've had a hard time writing this, unsure of what I should write or say about that day.. There are no words that do just to the situation that unfolded, and the individuals involved. This was just my opinion on events that day, and I give all my respect to the individuals directly involved in the accident.
I wish Victim #1 a speedy recovery, and may Victim #2 rest in peace, and watch down on all of us who return to the backcountry and the dangers of traveling in avalanche terrain. "