Backcountry skier dies in avalanche 

Victim was Whistler Blackcomb ski patroller

click to enlarge A local skier has died in a backcountry avalanche east of Pemberton. Avalanche risk is high and snowpack remains unstable.
  • A local skier has died in a backcountry avalanche east of Pemberton. Avalanche risk is high and snowpack remains unstable.

A Whistler Blackcomb ski patroller has been killed in a backcountry avalanche near Pemberton.

Duncan Mackenzie a long-time Whistler Blackcomb ski patroller died while skiing with three others in the backcountry about 25 kilometres east of Pemberton in the Casper Creek area off the Duffy Lake Road. All were very experienced backcountry skiers.

The avalanche occurred about 3:30 p.m. Thursday and RCMP was called an hour later to the remote area which is accessible only by snowmobile and hike.

It is still being determined what caused the avalanche, but according Search and Rescue manager Brad Sills three of the four skiers, including Mackenzie went up a slope to ski down for the last run and that is when the avalanche was triggered. The fourth had left the area due to equipment problems.

"The lesson really here is that they were participating in what professionals do, they go out and ski and collect data and gain knowledge," said Sills. "They are of that ilk that this is standard procedure. Unfortunately Mother Nature is cruel sometimes."

When the avalanche came down it swept Mackenzie 1,800-metres downhill into a treed area. His companions located him still alive, but critically injured at the time. One left immediately to get help.

"One of his friends stayed behind with the injured victim while the other went for help," said Thiessen.

"That individual stayed with his friend for hours on a cold, dark, snowy mountain trying to save his life with continuous CPR - you can imagine what that individual is struggling with at the moment, and what he went through while his friend died.


Unfortunately this is a example of the dangers of the backcountry. There were significant warnings put out in the last number of days about the hazards and unfortunately, in this case, one individual gave up his life for it."

Said Dave Steers of Pemberton SAR, "You need to have the right gear, the right knowledge, and you need to be really really careful.

"Last night we managed to get in there and take the guy who stayed with him out and this morning we managed to fly Duncan out as well."

The RCMP launched a helicopter rescue as soon as the call came in for assistance but extreme weather made it impossible to get into the area. The Comox 442 Squadron was then called for assistance, but again weather prevented recovery of the backcountry skier. Search and Rescue personnel from Pemberton and Whistler were deployed along with members of Whistler Blackcomb Ski Patrol and Whistler Heli-Skiing to help.

By the time they reached MacKenzie he had succumed to his injuries. However, difficult weather conditions and safety concerns meant that Mackenzie could not be brought out until this afternoon (Dec.30).

"Duncan was 30 years old and an employee of Whistler Blackcomb since October 2000," said Tabetha Boot communications manager for Whistler Blackcomb.

"He was a keen athlete and outdoor enthusiast.

"Whistler Blackcomb would like to express our most sincere condolences to Duncan's friends, colleagues and family."

Meanwhile a second avalanche death has occurred near Revelstoke. The victim was heli-skiing at the time with three others. All were buried in the human triggered avalanche though only one fatality resulted.

Whistler Blackcomb's avalanche advisory describes the risk of avalanche above and at the treeline as "considerable."

"It is a little spooky out there. The warm storm snow slab that accumulated on Wednesday has settled over loose, soft and dry new snow. This "upside down" slab is proving to be difficult to trigger with skis, but has been producing some large slab avalanches with bigger triggers like multiple skiers, cornice noses and of course, explosives. Be aware that all of this new snow is also loading into weak shallow snowpack areas as well as deep well settled areas.


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