Avalanche survivors share their story in the hopes of saving lives 

Risk of avalanche stays high in Sea to Sky country

click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY LEE LAU - Richard and Phil look towards Fissile from Oboe.
 

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The original plan was to ski Fissile Like a Missile, a steep 45-50 degree couloir that drops down the east side of Fissile onto the Overlord Glacier. Lau had skied the line before and was keen to ski it with his friends that day, but upon reaching the top of the line they discovered that the recent snow and wind had formed a six-metre high cornice at the entrance. Having negotiated entry hazards such as large cornices in the past and recognizing the danger they can pose, Lau spent the next hour probing and picking at the cornice with his shovel from a safe perch. But even after excavating a notch in the cornice to see exactly where to drop in, the line just didn't feel right. With all the recent snow accumulation and evidence of strong winds that had formed the cornice in the first place, the sluff (sliding surface snow usually triggered by a skier) would be too difficult to manage in the narrow chute and could endanger the skiers by sweeping them off their feet down into the exposure below. Even with the excavated cornice, the sizable drop into the line was beyond the risk threshold of the party.

The decision was made to turn around from Fissile Like a Missile. The question now was where to next? The North East Face (considered the crown jewel of Fissile) was a possibility and seemed tempting, but given all the factors affecting the previous route consideration, the group again made a collective decision to err on the side of caution.

"Fissile Like a Missile starts off as a broad fan funnelling into a narrow chute surrounded by very wide cliffs," says Lau.

"The NE face is a very open face over a very, very big cliff. If anything goes wrong, you will end up in the glacier off the cliffs. Both those faces have a serious amount of objective hazard that is unmanageable because there is little room to move. There was no way to escape (an incident on either line) if we didn't ski it really well."

The more commonly skied Summit and Saddle Chute were the next options. Summit again raised the red flag of sluff management, the tight corridor leaving little room for error. Post had skied Summit Chute once four years previous and sustained a fall on the steepest pitch that tomahawked him hundreds of metres down the slope, losing a ski in the process. His one-ski exit down the icy traverse of Singing Pass towards Whistler Village was perhaps the most gruelling experience of his life. But on this day, the late season snowpack had shaped Summit into an aggressive funnel so Post would have to settle for the relative safety of Saddle Chute, as would Lau and Drechsler.

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