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One dead, two seriously injured in three Sea to Sky avalanches on Saturday

‘There is an immense risk in the Sea to Sky backcountry,’ police say
Pemby SAR heli
One person is dead and two are seriously injured after three separate avalanches in the backcountry around Whistler and Pemberton on Saturday.

One person is dead and two others seriously injured after three separate avalanches in the Sea to Sky on Saturday, according to RCMP.

At about 1:20 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 5, Pemberton RCMP received “multiple emergency rescue calls in a 10-minute period” in the areas of Cassiope Peak (northeast of Pemberton) and Mount Cayley (west of Whistler), said Staff Sgt. Sascha Banks in a release.

Witnesses in the areas reported that three separate avalanches—two on Cassiope Peak and one on Mount Cayley—had buried multiple skiers and snowmobile operators.

About a dozen people also needed to be evacuated.

Pemberton Search and Rescue, Pemberton and Whistler RCMP, Whistler Search and Rescue, Blackcomb Helicopters, and BC Emergency Health Services ground and air ambulance units all responded to assist.

“Pemberton SAR attended to the Cassiope area and discovered a large avalanche on the north face of Cassiope Peak where four skiers were caught—one had serious injuries, two were not injured and unfortunately one was found deceased,” Banks said in the release.

A second avalanche on the Cassiope Trail Head caught “at least two people,” but they were not injured and were able to make their way to safety, she added.

The third avalanche, on Mount Cayley, caught a group of snowmobilers, and one person was seriously injured.

"There is no doubt that the snowpack remains unstable at this stage and information from Avalanche Canada and in consultation with avalanche experts in our area [shows] there is an immense risk in the Sea to Sky backcountry,” Banks said. "We are concerned for additional large avalanches in the coming weeks with the increase in temperatures and sunny conditions, and ourselves and Pemberton SAR are asking you [to] check avalanche ratings and plan your trips prior to heading out in our backcountry.”

“We also want to thank all the bystanders and those involved who assisted today and to the search and rescue teams from Pemberton and Whistler who continue to rescue those in dangerous situations. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of all who were involved today."

Pemberton Search and Rescue (PSAR) responded with the assistance of Whistler Search and Rescue, said PSAR manager David MacKenzie in the release.

“We deployed search teams, including two helicopters, avalanche dogs, and a long-line rescue team" MacKenzie said. "It is always difficult for our team when it is not always a positive outcome and our thoughts are with all the friends, families, and those involved today."

Pemberton RCMP will work alongside the BC Coroners Service on the investigation.  Anyone with information can contact the Pemberton RCMP at 604-894-6634.

Backcountry users are asked to check www.avalanche.ca for its trip planner and conditions prior to planning their adventure in the backcountry.

A spokesperson with the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) said they did not know where those affected were from, or if they were male or female.

“All in all we had four ambulances and a support vehicle, and two helicopters respond,” the spokesperson said. “That’s a lot.”

Saturday's tragic events in the Sea to Sky backcountry come on the heels of a size 2.5 avalanche that released on Rainbow Mountain Tuesday morning. 

In that instance, five skiers were caught up in the avalanche, and three of them were injured.

According to Avalanche Canada's weekly forecast, the current avalanche hazard in the region is "dynamic and highly spatially variable."

Check back with Pique for more as this story develops…