Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2006-02-12
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: The Fist in the Kananaskis recreation area
State: AB
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 2 caught and carried. 1 killed

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Skier dies in avalanche southwest of Calgary

Updated Mon. Feb. 13 2006 6:34 AM ET

Canadian Press

SEEBE, Alta. ? A Calgary man back-country skiing with a companion was killed in an avalanche Sunday.

The wall of snow came down about 12:45 p.m. on the south slope of The Fist, a mountain off the Spray Lakes Road in the Kananaskis recreation area west of Calgary, said RCMP Cpl. Phil Wilson.

The 50-year-old man was partially buried. The other person with him was not injured. The victim's name was not being immediately released, Wilson said.

Four people snowshoeing at the bottom of the valley were nearly caught in the avalanche as well, said George Field, public safety specialist for Kananaskis Country.

"They actually ran away from the base area where the avalanche was coming down and had it go behind their snowshoe heels," Field said.

"They were very lucky."

Field said two other people were skiing ahead of the victim and his companion and were on the other side of the avalanche.

When it stopped, they took off their skis and ran up to try to assist the victim.

As well, two park staff were on a different ridge and when they came around a corner, witnessed the avalanche. They went to the bottom of the valley and met the person who had been with the victim and called for help, Field said.

The avalanche danger was considered moderate on Sunday, Field said, adding that authorities were advising people to be aware of rising temperatures, especially on south-facing slopes that would get a lot of sun.

He said when he and others flew to the scene the temperature was 5C.

Avalanche warnings are posted at the park's visitor centres, and the Canadian Avalanche Association has a website with links to parks, where the conditions are posted daily.

The area where the avalanche occurred is ranked as challenging by Parks Canada. The department says people using the area in winter "require skills to recognize and avoid avalanche-prone terrain - big slopes exist on these trips."

It also says people should "understand the Public Avalanche Bulletin, perform avalanche self rescue, basic first aid, and be confident in your routefinding skills."

Field said the victim and the person with him were both experienced back-country skiers.

There have been four reports of avalanches in Kananaskis this year, the latest a couple of weeks ago, Field said. All were able to get out.

"It's actually safer when the snow is deeper. In the Rockies in particular, when the snow is thin, it is probably the most deadliest time when we have thin snowpack."

On Friday, the Canadian Avalanche Centre sent out a warning for backcountry users in the British Columbia interior.

It warned there was increased danger above the treeline due to a weak layer in the snowpack.

"This layer has been responsible for a number of very large avalanches recently, including some close calls," the news release said.