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Hanging Roll death brings back memories

Brothers still dealing with consequences of ducking a rope five years later

Chris Heather has some advice for people who think it’s a great idea to ski in permanently closed areas.

“Don’t be stupid and don’t duck the ropes, they are there for a reason,” he said from his Mission home.

“A couple of fat turns are not worth every other one for the rest of your life. That’s what I was going there for and now I don’t get to (do that) for the rest of my life.”

On Boxing Day 2002 Heather and his then 24-year-old brother Geoff decided to go into the permanently closed area of Whistler Mountain known as Hanging Roll to try and find some powder.

The decision changed their lives forever.

Geoff slipped and fell on the icy surface plummeting out of sight — only digging in his poles saved his life. When that happened Chris followed, afraid something had happened to his older brother. On a snowboard, so without poles, he hit the ice and kept sliding over the cliff to the rocks below. Only the helmet he wore saved his life.

After the accident ski patrol took the shattered remains of the helmet, stuck it back together and put it on a pole beside the warning signs hoping it would cause a few people to think again before they ducked the ropes.

“I wake up every morning and I feel like I’m 70 years old,” said Chris Heather who has been told by his doctors that he should never snowboard or mountain bike again. He is also facing more shoulder surgery as a result of the 75-metre fall.

When the brothers saw the news reports last week about two young men who had gone over the same cliff in an avalanche — one to his death — they were horrified and angry that people were still ignoring the signs.

“There is a reason why they close it,” said Chris Heather. “People die there.”

Geoff Heather agrees: “Reading the story in The Province was bone-chilling.

“Perhaps if a lot of people hear about our story and this (latest) story they will put two and two together and see that the warning signs are there for a reason.

“Sometimes I get flashbacks and it feels so real and I feel so lucky, but I also feel so horrible. Reading all this recently has just resurrected all those feelings. And I just feel absolutely awful and I hope people really get the message that you have to respect the mountains and know your limits.”

Ben Moses, 21, sustained a broken pelvis, collapsed lung, broken ribs, concussion and lacerated liver in the fall New Year’s Day.

He has since been released from hospital said his father, Jerry.

“I’m just so happy he is alive,” he said.

“He has to stay off his hip for three months. But Ben is a really positive person.”

Moses was very distressed to hear that his close friend Curtis Green, 29, was killed in the same accident.

“He feels so badly,” said Jerry Moses. “He is very, very sad about that.”

Both Moses and Green were Whistler-Blackcomb employees.

The last few weeks have been deadly for outdoor enthusiasts in Western Canada thanks to an ice crust, which formed following an early December rainstorm. It is buried about one-and-a-half metres below the surface of the snow, making the snow pack unstable.

So far this winter 10 people have died in B.C. and Alberta in avalanches. One of the deaths occurred on an open run at Big White, near Kelowna, when an avalanche roared down around 11 a.m. on Jan. 6. It’s been at least 25 years since an avalanche on an open run killed anyone.

Blackcomb also had an in-bounds avalanche last Sunday in the Surf’s Up area.

Avalanche patrol had been up there that morning said Doug MacFarlane Whistler-Blackcomb’s mountain manager.

“It was a post-control release, meaning we had bombed it and skied through there and nothing had come out,” he said.

“Then a party of three came in after and that pulled out that slide.”

Avalanche control is aggressive on the mountains, especially with the buried rain crust said MacFarlane.

“This is a layer that is not going away,” he said.

“We are hitting it with larger explosives. Typically we use a kilogram shot on a slope but maybe we are using two or three kilogram shots on a slope to force it and sometimes that is not even working because it is an inexact science.

“You are using all the tools you have in your tool box to control the hazard but are you going to get rid of the hazard all together? The answer is no.”