The man who died on Blackcomb Mountain last weekend has been identified.
Although authorities have yet to release the man's name, two sources who knew him confirmed the 27-year-old Whistler resident as Matej Svana, who died Saturday, Nov. 26 after falling into "deep, unconsolidated snow," police said.
"One of the most inspiring people I've ever met. Your wisdom will accompany us forever," wrote friend Kristina Batmendijnova on Facebook Tuesday, Nov. 29.
A blog that looks to be written by Svana describes him as a "Whistler local whose love of snowboarding has brought him here from Slovakia in 2014."
A graduate of Charles University in Prague, Svana studied computational chemistry and is enrolled at the Whistler Adventure School, an administrator confirmed. His LinkedIn page says he was pursuing a career in marketing and media management.
"(I) always dreamed of living an outdoor lifestyle," Svana's apparent blog, bcoutdoorsports.ca, read. "Whistler turned out to be the destination of choice, as (I had) been watching tons of snowboarding videos, many of which were shot in Whistler." The blog said he was also "polishing" his photography and videography skills, and showed several shots of him camping and biking in the B.C. backcountry.
According to police, Svana was riding in a gladed area near Arthur's Choice when he became separated from his girlfriend. Officials said he fell face-first into deep snow after going beyond the operational boundary. Members of the public pulled him from the snow unconscious and unresponsive and began administering CPR. Subsequent attempts to revive him by a mountain doctor and paramedics were unsuccessful.
A crowdfunding campaign to help pay for Svana's family to travel to Canada to pay their respects has been set up at www.youcaring.com/matejsvana-701576. At press time, nearly $8,000 had been raised.
WB safety manager Kira Cailes spoke to Pique following the tragedy to urge the public to take the necessary precautions in challenging early-season conditions.
"Basically what we're dealing with is a very rapid accumulation of snow in a very short time," she said. Whistler Blackcomb has been hit with 313 centimetres of snow since Nov. 1, including more than 200 in the past week and a half. "Given that it's early season, a lot of that snow is unconsolidated."
That means hazards can be tricky to spot, and areas where there appears to be a deep layer of snow could be deceiving at first glance, Cailes explained. Whistler Blackcomb marks hazards within its boundaries, but off-piste users will find no warning signs.
"Despite all this snowfall, all the early-season conditions still apply and (people) still need to ski and ride accordingly within our recommendations, which is to stay on the marked and open runs where we've had an opportunity to actually give people fair warning of the hazards," added Cailes.
Although Svana didn't fall into a tree well, a void formed around the trunk of a tree covered in snow, they pose one of the greatest risks to mountain users. A quick build-up of powder raises the risk level, making tree wells more difficult to identify.
One of the most important tips to remember when riding in a treed area is to bring a partner and always keep them within eyesight and earshot, Cailes said. If you happen to fall into a hole, remain calm and form an air pocket around your face.
If you find your partner in a tree well, never attempt to dig them out from above, as this increases the chance of suffocation, but instead determine where their head is and tunnel in from the side. For more safety tips on snow-immersion suffocation, visit www.deepsnowsafety.org.
Svana's death comes just two days after Blackcomb Mountain opened for the season, and follows another record-breaking winter for the resort in terms of visitation.
Whistler's growth, coupled with the rise in popularity of backcountry recreation, has stretched the resources of the volunteer-led Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) organization.
The most recent WSAR manager's report, which covers the period between Feb. 3, 2015 and Feb. 29, 2016, showed an increase to 41 callouts from 24 the year prior, as well as a "significant" rise in the number of medical evacuations.
Tourists represented six of the 39 subjects involved in rescues during that span, while local residents accounted for 10 calls. British Columbians outside of Whistler made up approximately 18 responses, and the remaining five came from other provinces.
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