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Coroner’s report offers insight into seasoned Squamish snowboarder’s death on Brandywine

David Henkel died in 2021 avalanche that swept him 200 metres through treed area
WSAR coroner 2022
Whistler Search and Rescue, emergency services, RCMP, and Blackcomb Snowmobiles all responded to a February 2021 avalanche that left a Squamish snowboarder dead.

A coroner’s report released this week offered more details into the 2021 death of a seasoned Squamish snowboarder and backcountry recreationalist on Brandywine Mountain.

On Feb. 13, 2021, 45-year-old David Henkel and two other people were snowboarding in the area of the Metal Dome entrance to Brandywine Bowl. The group had completed two laps of tree-lined runs when, on the third lap, Henkel dropped in first before he was “caught up in the sloughing snow causing him to crash,” the report stated.

As the slough built up, it pulled Henkel down, and at about 2 p.m., he was caught in a Size 1 avalanche of wet, loose snow that “washed him through the rugged terrain, including trees,” according to the report. Henkel slid approximately 200 metres from a starting elevation of about 1,700 m.

The other two members of the group undertook a transceiver search, zig-zagging their way down the slope. Emergency services, RCMP, Whistler Search and Rescue and Blackcomb Snowmobiles all responded, and Henkel was located within 20 minutes of the slide on a southwest-facing slope, up against a tree. Henkel was unresponsive and no radial pulse was found. CPR was performed for approximately 10 minutes before it was concluded he was deceased.

The snowboarder suffered multiple incidences of blunt force trauma in the slide, which coroner Chico Newell ultimately ruled as the cause of death.

A long-time Sea to Sky resident, Henkel had extensive experience in the backcountry, and appeared to be well prepared for the terrain. The coroner noted he was wearing appropriate gear, a Mammut transceiver, and backpack at the time.

At the time last winter, Whistler Search and Rescue Manager Brad Sills noted a troubling pattern of highly skilled and knowledgeable skiers and riders dying in the backcountry.

“What’s emerging, and what’s quite different this year is that at least four of the five fatalities that we’ve had here in the Sea to Sky country have been with well-above-average—I would say very experienced—snow travellers,” he told Pique in a February 2021 interview.

Henkel’s was one of two deaths in the Whistler backcountry in the span of a day last year. Less than 24 hours before the slide that killed the Squamish resident, a skier died and another was badly injured in a Size 3 slide on Phalanx Mountain, near Blackcomb Glacier.

Avalanche Canada had rated the risk level in the alpine that day as considerable, moderate in the treeline, and low below the treeline. The agency also warned of dangerous conditions from strong winds that had redistributed loose snow “into reactive wind slabs at higher elevations.”