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Skier fully buried in avalanche near Lake Louise, escapes with life

The potential for large natural avalanches is very real, and human triggering remains likely, according to Parks Canada.

LAKE LOUISE – A skier outside the Lake Louise ski boundary had a lucky escape after being swept away in an avalanche and fully buried last weekend during a time of high avalanche danger.

Two skiers were on Lipalian 4 outside the ski area boundary on Sunday (March 3) when the first person skied into the slope and triggered it, and then rode the avalanche for about 150 metres.

According to Parks Canada visitor safety specialists, the other skier, who was standing in a safe location, then switched on the transceiver to search and soon noticed a ski pole on the surface.

They say the buried skier’s face was 40 centimetres below the surface, and after their airway was uncovered, the buried skier was dug out from a 200 cm hole, luckily escaping with only minor injuries including the loss of two teeth.

James Eastham, a spokesperson for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay, said the rescue team was called out and flew over the area.

"We were stood down once we had confirmation they were able to self-evacuate," he said.

Avalanche Canada's special public avalanche warning, which went into effect on Feb. 29 for Alberta and British Columbia, has  been extended until at least March 7.

Backcountry enthusiasts are asked to avoid all avalanche terrain because of the extremely dangerous conditions.

In recent days, there have been several natural, human and explosive triggered avalanches up to size 3.5, with some avalanches running the full path.

"Avalanche conditions are still quite dangerous," said Eastham, noting the potential for large natural avalanches is very real and human triggering remains likely.

"There's been a number of close calls here where people were pretty lucky to get away with what they did," he added.

"People should continue to avoid avalanche terrain and give the snowpack a bit of time to heal."

As well as the Lipalian incident, there was also a close call with a skier-triggered avalanche at Chute 5 at Tumbling off Highway 93 South.

The group reported on the Mountain Information Network (MIN), indicating the snow slid on icy ground with “immense force and barrelled down”.

The force knocked one of the skiers in the group of three off their feet “and was ragged dolled for 150 metres into six-foot-high trees” on the side of the main slide path.

The reporting person said the skier lost skis and poles. “No trauma injuries.”

“Very obvious outcome in hindsight. Many indications were overshadowed by great skiing earlier in the day. Poor judgment was responsible.”

Throughout the week, Parks Canada has been doing avalanche control work to protect roads and highways, including at Vermillion Peak, Simpson Area, Mount Stephen and Cathedral Glades.

Between 50 and 90 cm of new snow fell from Feb 23 to March 2 in Banff National Park.

Visitor safety specialists say this combined with strong winds has formed a 40-60 cm storm slab at alpine and treeline elevations.

“The weak Feb 3 facet/crust layer is down 50-90 cm and exists up to 2,500 m and higher on steep solar aspects,” according to Parks Canada.

“The lower snowpack consists of several facet layers and depth hoar. The basal layer is weaker in shallow snowpack areas.”


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