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Backcountry skier dies in avalanche near Whistler

RCMP asking anyone concerned about missing skiers or riders who were in the backountry around the Blackcomb Glacier to reach them
Friday’s fatal avalanche near Whistler comes amid increased risk in the area, something police are urging anyone venturing out into the backcountry to take into consideration.

One person is dead after an avalanche released in the Poop Chutes area off the Blackcomb Glacier, and the RCMP is asking anyone who knows of people skiing and riding in the Blackcomb Glacier to reach them if they have any concerns.

The RCMP was notified of the Size 3 avalanche at about 3:20 p.m. Friday, Feb.12.

“Multiple skiers were swept up in the avalanche,” said RCMP Sgt. Sascha Banks according to an RCMP news release. “Three people were located: one was located with injuries, one was uninjured, and unfortunately one was pronounced deceased by a doctor in the area.”

Blackcomb Helicopters, avalanche technicians and dogs as well as Blackcomb Ski Patrol were on scene to see if anyone else was caught in the avalanche.

A second smaller avalanche occurred just prior to the Blackcomb Glacier one in the Phalanx area close to the Spearhead Glacier. A skier sustained serious injuries and was flown via air ambulance to a Lower Mainland Hospital.

The area where the avalanches occurred is outside the boundaries of Whistler Blackcomb and is not patrolled. However, Whistler Blackcomb has an agreement with the province to carry out avalanche control in the Phalanx region. It is generally accessed through the ski resort.

"We have said this multiple times already this year, the snowpack in the backcountry of the Sea to Sky is unstable and is subject to considerable and high avalanche risks," said Banks. "This is relevant for close proximity and popular backcountry areas such as Blackcomb Glacier.

“I cannot stress enough that you need appropriate avalanche equipment, train how to use it, recognize risk, and have up to date beacons/transceivers and that you know how to use them.

“Anyone coming here needs to check Avalanche Canada for reports and even decide that now is not the time to be touring in the Sea to Sky."

Avalanche Canada in its bulletin this week in Pique said: “Unfortunately, the cold and clear period between our last snowfall and the upcoming storms has created a bit of a problematic setup.

“The cold means our snow surface has gradually evolved into dry, sugary, and generally weak, faceted snow. The clear means we almost certainly have some new and slippery sun crusts formed on solar aspects, and the combo of cold and clear overnight periods has more than likely formed a fragile new layer of feathery surface hoar in more sheltered areas away from wind or sun exposure.

“To manage the evolving situation, start by carefully monitoring accumulations. Up to about 10 or 15 centimetres, instabilities from the new snow will likely be fairly limited to areas where the wind is actively loading snow. Think about the immediate leeward side of ridges and wind-exposed terrain features. Not only does snow add up faster here, it’s much more likely to take on the character of an unstable slab that’s easily triggered by a person or machine.”

Sea to Sky RCMP officers and rescuers fielded two other calls for assistance in 24 hours.

The first call came on Thursday, Feb. 11, when two backcountry skiers got caught in an avalanche in Garibaldi Provincial Park in the Super Couloir Area on the back of Mamquam Mountain.

Also, on Thursday, Squamish RCMP officers were contacted about an overdue backcountry skier who was solo touring in the Elfin Lakes area.

Police were able to locate the man's vehicle in the parking lot leading to the Upper Elfin Lakes Trail and contacted Squamish Search and Rescue to help find him.

Other agencies joined the search. Members from Lions Bays SAR, North Shore Rescue, Whistler SAR, and Pemberton SAR searched throughout the day in the Ring Creek and Mashiter Creek area.

The man was found late Friday on upper Mamquam Road and is being treated for extensive exposure injuries, according to Squamish RCMP.

If anyone has any information in regards to those who may have been on the backside of Blackcomb Feb.12 and are unaccounted for please call Whistler RCMP at 604-932-3044. 

With files from the Squamish Chief

This story was updated Feb.14 to clarify information about avalanche control done in the Phalanx region.