Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2007-12-24
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: near 108 Mile House
State: BC
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 2
Summary: 2 snowmobilers caught and killed by 2 successive avalanches



Avalanche risk may be worst in five years

Two die in snowslides in B.C. Interior

Sean Myers, Calgary Herald; CanWest News Service

Published: 1:32 am

CALGARY - Forecasters are bracing for potentially the worst avalanche conditions in five years in a season that has already turned deadly. Throughout backcountry areas in the Rockies, the avalanche risk is rated as considerable at treeline and alpine elevations.

Two successive avalanches on Monday killed two members of a party of four snowmobilers near 108 Mile House, in the British Columbia Interior.

"They were digging themselves out (from the first avalanche) when a second, much larger, avalanche occurred," said Capt. David Burneau with the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria. One of the men was found, but died from his injuries at the scene. The search for the second man was called off before midnight Monday because conditions were considered too unstable. His body was recovered on Tuesday.

John Kelly, operations manager of the Canadian Avalanche Centre, said a combination of rapid shifts in weather patterns and above-average precipitation in late fall has created weak layers of snow that could easily give way beneath heavier slabs lying on top. He stopped short of ranking the slide potential alongside that of 2002-03, which saw 29 deaths, including seven students from Calgary's Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School.

"It is reminiscent of 2003, but 2003 was worse than this," said Kelly. "This is not a situation where avalanches are falling down around people's ears, this is a situation where people could go out and wake a sleeping dragon."

An avalanche killed two Calgary men on Dec. 8 on Tent Ridge in Kananaskis Country. Mark Lynton Smith, 29, and his companion John Nyenhuis were testing the snow with probes when the slide came down on them. They were wearing transceivers that allowed a nearby group of skiers to dig them up about 15 minutes after the avalanche came down, but the pair had been swept into a stand of trees and were dead by the time rescuers got to them.

The incident shows that even with safety precautions, an avalanche can be deadly, said Calgary mountaineer and avalanche awareness guru Peter Spear.

When Spear took up backcountry skiing, assessing avalanche risks involved calling up friends and park wardens who'd been out recently to get their opinions. These reports could be a week or two old, and deciding where to go in the mountains involved making an informed best guess.

Significant advances in avalanche awareness have taken place in the aftermath of the disastrous 2002-03 season, including a new terrain ranking system and the creation of the Canadian Avalanche Centre to distribute up-to-date bulletins online at

? The Edmonton Journal 2007