Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2002-01-28
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Mount Carlyle near Kaslo, 30 miles north of the Canadian border near Idaho.
State: BC
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 3
Summary: Three backcountry skiers caught and killed


Avalanche kills 3 from Seattle area

By Seattle Times staff and The Associated Press

Three backcountry skiers from the Seattle area have been killed in an avalanche in southeastern British Columbia, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The victims were Susan Majeski McKnight, 53, of Lake Forest Park and Georgia Lynne Bakke, 42, and Lawrence Gordon Duff, 54, both of Edmonds, RCMP Sgt. Randy Koch said late last night.

The three were among a party of five skiers Monday afternoon who had been heading down Mount Carlyle near Kaslo, 30 miles north of the Canadian border near Idaho.

The group was staying at the Kootenay Mountain Huts, a popular destination for backcountry skiers 7,000 feet up Mount Carlyle. It is about six miles north of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.

The area is in the tree line, very rugged and remote, Koch said, but the skiers were skiing in an open, treeless area.

According to the RCMP, the five skiers were around 6,000 feet, descending the steep slope of Mount Carlyle single-file, to lessen the danger of an avalanche.

McKnight, Bakke and Duff descended safely, Koch said. The fourth skier triggered a Class 3 avalanche, measuring approximately 700 yards long and 200 yards wide, which buried the first three skiers below him.

The fourth skier was able to ski out of danger, and the fifth skied down after.

The two dug out the bodies, which took about two hours, and then returned to their cabin half a mile away to notify police via radiotelephone. The bodies were recovered yesterday and taken to Trail, B.C., southwest of Nelson.

Koch said the skiers all carried transceivers, shovels and 8-foot telescopic probes ? equipment used for escaping or rescue from avalanches.

"Every indication was that they were prepared, experienced backcountry enthusiasts," Koch said.

Avalanche danger at the time was rated as "considerable."

Two other people have been killed in B.C. avalanches this season: a skier from the United States and a Canadian snowmobiler.

Seattle Times staff reporters Caitlin Cleary and Sara Jean Green contributed to this report.

Three Washington state skiers killed in West


Chad Skelton

Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

KASLO -- Three people killed by

a massive avalanche in the West

Kootenays Monday ignored

warnings about dangerous snow

conditions in the area they were

skiing, according to an employee

of a company that rented them a


"They opted to go non-guided.

We were telling them the

avalanche risk was high and they

still went out," said Karin Wahlstrom, an employee at

Kootenay Mountain Huts.

Eight skiers from western Washington State took a

helicopter to a hut on Mount Carlyle Sunday for a week

of ski touring. The hut is located at an elevation of about

2,100 metres about 16 kilometres west of Kaslo and 10

kilometres north of the northern boundary of Kokanee

Glacier Provincial Park.

About 2:45 p.m. Monday, five of the eight left the hut to

ski down the slopes of the mountain.

According to RCMP spokesman Sergeant Randy Koch,

the skiers were travelling down the mountain single file

when the fourth skier's weight triggered an avalanche that

buried the three skiers who had gone before him.

The three buried skiers were equipped with avalanche

beacons that helped their two friends locate them. The

two spent two hours using their shovels to dig their

friends out of the snow.

"They had done an exceptional job of self-rescue," said

local coroner Bob Stair. "The burials were deep. "In my

opinion, their work was extraordinary."

But it was too late. All three were already dead.

The two survivors travelled back up to the hut, where

they contacted police by radio phone about 6:40 p.m.

It was too dark Monday night to recover the bodies, so

police and the coroner's service waited until Tuesday

morning to retrieve the bodies from the mountain.

All three bodies have been taken to Trail, where they are

expected to undergo autopsies today.

Koch said the group was well prepared and had all the

proper equipment.

"They were doing all the right things, as far as testing and

snow profiles. They were carrying the required gear, the

transceivers (beacons) and the probes and those types of

things," he said.

"There is every indication this group was experienced in

the backcountry and thought that they could go out and ski

the areas on their own."

The Canadian Avalanche Association, based in

Revelstoke, had warned that heavy snowfall in the

preceding days had made the risk of an avalanche in the

Kootenays this week "considerable."

The association uses a five-point danger scale. A rating

of "considerable" is in the middle, below "high" and


Evan Manners, president of the association, said his

group had actually downgraded its avalanche warning to

considerable from high over the weekend as conditions

on the mountain settled somewhat.

The eight skiers were staying in a hut on Mount Carlyle

run by Kootenay Mountain Huts. But Koch said the

Americans were not accompanied by a guide.

Wahlstrom said there were good, safe ski touring options

around the cabin, but the group of five decided go off on

their own without telling the cabin custodian of their


She said there had been several recent small snow

releases and extremely high winds in the area.

"The group was aware of this," she said.

Stair, a back-country skier himself, described the

avalanche that killed the three skiers as "a very large

class 3 avalanche -- which is a very, very big avalanche

... it was a huge avalanche that had a horrific force."

Stair said avalanche technicians at the scene estimated

the depth of the snow that fell away from the mountain at

only about 50 to 70 centimetres deep. But he said the

avalanche covered such a wide area that "the volume of

snow that came down the slope was huge."

Wendy Rockafellow, who guides backcountry ski touring

and ski mountaineering expeditions in Alberta, B.C and

the Yukon, said the area in which the avalanche occurred

is popular with backcountry skiers.

"It's got lots of snow, which is why they got caught in the

avalanche. They just had a huge amount of snow. Calgary

saw a little bit of it, but they probably got five times as

much over there," Rockafellow said.

"Technically, they were probably quite good skiers. They

were probably extremely fit -- it's not an easy place to

get into. And they also probably misread how unstable

the conditions are right now -- that comes from a lot of


She said skiers need to pick their terrain wisely and

manage their group well when the avalanche risk is


"If [the avalanche risk is] considerable, and you're just

there for a good time, then maybe you need to re-evaluate

your goals of the day and maybe not go to such a big

place or work on other skills."