Whistler Blackcomb adopting zero tolerance policy 

Whistler Blackcomb is adopting a zero tolerance policy toward skiers going out of bounds following two deaths in two separate avalanches.

The avalanches claimed the lives of a local skier and a snowboarder from out of province, both of them discovered dead on New Year’s Day.

A 37-year-old male skier from Whistler was reported as an “overdue skier” on Blackcomb Mountain at 8:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve, according to Whistler RCMP. He was last seen in the area of Blackcomb Rescue Road at about 2 p.m. Dec. 31 after skiing in the Ruby Bowl area near the Blackcomb Glacier.

Ruby Bowl, which is normally open to the public, was closed due to snow conditions that have created high avalanche risks in alpine and treeline areas. The entrance to the bowl was marked with signs showing it had a high avalanche hazard and that avalanche control in the area was minimal, according to the release.

Police contacted the man’s cell phone provider and used a GPS function on his phone to track him down on Blackcomb. His body was discovered at 9:35 a.m. Jan. 1 after a search by Blackcomb Ski Patrol, dog and handler teams with the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association and Whistler Search and Rescue.

It’s believed the avalanche was a class 2 slide with a one-metre crown and 1.6-to-2 metre debris depth.

The avalanche was likely caused by the skier.

Also on Jan. 1, Whistler RCMP were notified at around 3 p.m. of a death on Whistler Mountain in the Secret Chutes area near the Symphony Bowl, an advanced run that can be accessed by the Harmony Express chair.

A 26-year-old male from out of province was boarding alone in the area, which was designated “beyond boundary” due to snow conditions. He, too, was buried in a class 2 avalanche, believed to have been caused by the snowboarder.

A class 2 avalanche is big enough to injure and bury people.

A search team put together by Whistler Ski Patrol and dog and handler teams with the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association determined that no one else was caught in the avalanche.

Names of the deceased are being withheld, pending notification of their families.

Meanwhile a third avalanche took place in bounds on Whistler Mountain on Thursday, but no one was caught in the slide. The avalanche occurred on Little Whistler, an area that was open but was closed immediately after the slide.

The RCMP is warning that avalanche danger is currently rated high and backcountry travel is not recommend.

Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations, told the Canadian Press Whistler Blackcomb is adopting a zero-tolerance policy and will pull lift passes of anyone caught venturing into restricted areas.

The Whistler Blackcomb website has posted a notice saying that backcountry access lift tickets will not be available given current snow conditions, and both alpine and treeline areas have been marked with a “high” avalanche hazard for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Areas below treeline have been marked as having “considerable” avalanche hazards for all three days.

As of Friday morning the Peak Chair, Harmony, Symphony and T-Bar on Whistler Mountain remain closed. On Blackcomb the Horstman and Showcase T-Bars are closed while the Glacier Express and Crystal chairs are on standby.

While the Whistler area has received approximately a metre of new snow in the last week that new snow has not bonded to an underlying layer that fell prior to Christmas, when temperatures were much colder.

“When you get cold temperatures in a shallow snowpack, the snow crystals transform and turn really sugary,” Whistler avalanche forecaster Jan Tindle said last week. “Right now that sugary snow is sitting on top of an ice crust that formed in early December.”

That underlying weakness in the snowpack exists across southern British Columbia.

The Canadian Avalanche Centre issued a special avalanche warning for southern British Columbia and Alberta on Jan. 1. The warning covers the period of Jan. 2 through Jan. 5.

“The snowpack across much of B.C. and Alberta is unusually weak and the CAC has received many reports of avalanches triggered by recreational activity over the past 24 hours,” the warning states. “As new snow accumulates on top of this fragile base, more avalanches are certain.”

The CAC warning adds that the situation is likely to get more complex with an intense Pacific storm that is forecast to hit the South Coast by Sunday, bringing rain and more snow. Backcountry users are advised to stay well clear of avalanche terrain with the onset of any significant precipitation.

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