Avalanche buries four FAST skiers

A Fernie Alpine Ski Team (FAST) coach has described how he watched in horror as an avalanche on Saturday at Fernie Alpine Resort (FAR) carried four people 300 metres and buried them up to their necks.

  • Jan. 19, 2011 7:00 a.m.

A Fernie Alpine Ski Team (FAST) coach has described how he watched in horror as an avalanche on Saturday at Fernie Alpine Resort (FAR) carried four people 300 metres and buried them up to their necks.

Mark Deneau said he is amazed there were not more serious injuries in the avalanche, which was triggered by a member of the ski team when he jumped off a cliff.

Deneau said he watched as the slide carried three kids and coach Ben Cohen down the hill, through the trees, and buried them about three metres deep.

“They were all buried up to their necks,” he said. “Only their faces were visible. None of us were wearing transceivers. You just don’t expect you will need them when you are skiing inbounds.”

He said Cohen, who is the son of Andy Cohen, the General Manager at Fernie Alpine Resort, hit a tree and suffered a concussion as well as hurting his knee.

One of the others had to go to hospital with a leg injury.

Deneau and Cohen were coaching a group of seven kids aged between 15 and 17 at the time and were going off a 10 ft. jump at the top of the 1-2-3s in Currie Bowl.

“Me and two girls were waiting at the bottom of the run on a bench,” he said. “Ben and three boys were about half way down. Further up, there were the last two boys. One hit the jump and must have landed right on the sweet spot because the slab just broke off.

“The kid who triggered it ended up buried to his knees and dug himself out but Ben and the three kids he was with were carried through the trees and ended up buried to their necks.

“They all hit trees. Luckily they were wearing helmets, although one kid said he was dizzy from hitting his head despite the helmet.

“We managed to get to all of them and dug them out before ski patrol arrived. There is still a pair of skis buried under the debris.”

John Shea, Chief Resorts Officer for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, said they are taking the incident very seriously. “We are looking at this as a very serious situation for sure,” he said. “Any incident that involves the safety of our guests is very important to us and will be treated seriously.

“We have a team of avalanche control experts there and a high level of confidence in them. They work very hard to make sure the public are safe, but despite all the work this still happened.”

He denied that the resort had been playing down the severity of the avalanche when a press release sent out on Saturday stated, “None of the seven were buried.”

“The avalanche itself was a class two, about 30 metres wide and a metre deep where it fractured. It travelled about 300 metres. So it was a reasonable size.

“When our staff members arrived at the scene, there wasn’t anyone buried. Later on more information emerged that the skiers had been partially buried and had to be dug out of the debris.”

The slide happened just before 2 p.m. on Saturday.

The Currie and Timber bowls were closed off on Sunday and Monday.

Three people died in avalanches in western B.C. over the weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, two brothers from Calgary were killed while skiing backcountry terrain in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, near the Alberta border.

The slide in Kananaskis killed brothers Mark and Rob Glaser, both in their mid-40s. They were not wearing locator beacons.

On Sunday an avalanche near the Kokanee Glacier, just north of Nelson, killed a man who was backcountry skiing with a group. They were all wearing beacons and retrieved the man quickly but could not revive him.

The Canadian Avalanche Centre is warning people that the snowpack is still extremely unstable.

B.C.’s transportation ministry described conditions in Kicking Horse Canyon, east of Golden, as “a once-in-30-years avalanche cycle” after 30 avalanches occurred along it. Many major stretches of highways were closed this week for avalanche control work.