BANFF – Two skiers were lucky to walk away without any injuries after getting caught in a size two avalanche in Banff National Park over the weekend.
The two skiers were making their way to the top of Cique Forepeak, near Bow Lake on Saturday (Dec. 8), when they triggered a wind slab avalanche on the southeast aspect of the mountain.
The avalanche ran 280 metres down the slope of the mountain partially burying one of the skiers. The other skier was left on the surface of the slide and managed to dig out his partner, however both skiers lost some of their equipment and were evacuated out of the backcountry by Parks Canada visitor safety specialists.
Brian Webster, visitor safety manager for Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks, said a helicopter team was already evacuating an injured skier on Observation Peak, when a member of the public approached them to report two skiers had just triggered an avalanche on Cique Forepeak, which is adjacent to Observation Peak.
“This individual wasn’t part of the group, he wasn’t involved in the avalanche, but he observed two skiers being caught in the avalanche,” said Webster. “He observed they weren’t buried, but it appeared they had lost some equipment and they needed some assistance.”
The member of the public told the search and rescue team that he had also managed to communicate with the two skiers who informed him that they weren’t injured, but needed help.
In response, the visitor safety team flew over to the avalanche area and managed to land near by to evacuate both skiers.
“It was quite fortunate that we were in the area at the exact right time,” said Webster, adding the injured skier on Observation Peak was also safely evacuated.
A size two avalanche has the destructive potential to bury, injure, or kill a person.
In this case, the skiers were uninjured, however according to Webster they were working a faint rib on the leeward side of the mountain near the top when they trigger the avalanche.
“They were right on the edge of it, but both got caught and ended up at the bottom,” said Webster, adding the avalanche was 20 to 40-cm deep and 120-m wide.
He said he was surprised to see such a large avalanche, given that at the time it occurred the avalanche hazard was considered low at all elevations and there hadn’t been a lot of new snow.
“In the previous week we were seeing the odd avalanche here and there, but certainly not a great number of avalanches,” said Webster.
Looking at the next few days, he said the avalanche hazard will likely become high, as up to 50-cm of new snow accumulates in the alpine by the weekend.
“Almost undoubtedly we’re going to be seeing an avalanche cycle and the avalanche hazard is going to increase,” said Webster.
“That low hazard that we’ve been enjoying over the last couple of weeks that’s going to change and with that change in hazard we have to change how we approach the terrain and really pull in the reins and be conservative until we’ve ridden out this next period of higher avalanche hazard.”
For up to date information on avalanche conditions visit www.avalanchecanada.ca.