Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2000-02-23
Submitted By: Frank W. Baumann
Place: Mamquam River Valley
State: BC
Country: CANADA
Summary: 3 snowmobilers caught, 1 buried

On Wednesday, February 23, 2000, three snowmobilers were traveling along

a logging road in the Mamquam River valley, about 80 km north of

Vancouver, B.C., when they came to a large snow-covered gully. There

was about 50 cm of new snow present that had been deposited over the

previous 48 hours on top of faceted crystals formed the week before

during a period of cold, clear weather. The total snow depth was about

2-3 metres.

The three snowmobilers were high marking in the gully when they suddenly

initiated a large slide. One person, not wearing an avalanche

transceiver, managed to grab and hold onto a small tree as his machine

was swept away and buried. A second person rode the slide all the way

down the gully and, fortunately, was on top of the snow when it stopped

moving. The third person, who was wearing an avalanche transceiver, was

totally buried along with his machine.

When the person at the top realized that his friend was buried, he

called down to the third person to come back up and start a transceiver

search; however, this could not be easily done because of the deep snow

and distance. As the back and forth shouting continued, the person at

the top suddenly heard a muffled cry near him. He quickly followed the

sound and was soon able to find the buried snowmobiler- he was buried

standing almost upright, with about 30 cm of snow overtop of his

helmet. Fortunately, he had been able to raise his hand and cover his

mouth in front of his helmet, and so was able to push away just enough

snow to provide a small breathing space. The space also allowed him to

shout for help- and just enough of the sound was able to pass through

the snow to be heard on the surface.

Comment: there has been a dramatic increase in the number of

snowmobilers that venture into backcountry areas in southwestern British

Columbia but there has not been a commensurate increase in avalanche

awareness. There is also an unfortunate lack of timely and effective

communication of critical avalanche information from the professionals

at local ski areas and highway maintenance facilities to the public.

Although the potential for higher avalanche hazard was recognized at the

beginning of the week, it was not until well-after this accident (after

the hazard had abated) that avalanche warnings were carried on the

Internet, telephone reports, and on local radio stations.

Frank W. Baumann


One more pertinent detail regarding this accident: it happened in the

evening, when it was totally dark. So the snowmobilers were high

marking in a gully at night during a period of high hazard, on a remote

logging road about 15 km from the nearest town (Squamish, B.C.).