Local search and rescue teams responded to an emergency call Sunday afternoon after an avalanche in the Kootenay Pass area left one man dead and one woman injured.
A 27-year old male from Nelson suffered severe injuries and passed away at the scene of the avalanche and the 27-year old woman, also from Nelson, is in Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital with serious injuries, according to a Monday news release by the Salmo RCMP detachment.
The incident unfolded in the early afternoon when four skiers from Nelson trekked through a remote section southwest from the Kootenay Pass Summit and two were hit by a slide that swept them over the cliff and into trees below.
Six skiers who were nearby the slide began rescue efforts while the two remaining members of the group skied to the highway to call for help.
“This is a popular ski area with nice powder, and the only access in is by foot,” said Ron Medland, from South Columbia Search and Rescue (SAR). “You have to be quite skilled to be in there because it is backcountry touring in deep powder and avalanches are a risk.”
Medland confirmed that three members from his rescue team joined SAR members from Castlegar, Nelson and Rossland to ski about three kilometres into the rescue area after the two skiers were initially located by helicopter.
“Across the parking lot (summit) there is an old logging road that goes south through a couple of switchbacks and leads to a ridge called the Lightning Strike,” he explained. “Below that is a couple of lakes called Twin Lakes,” said Medland. “This is high skill stuff. Our teams skied in and rescued the one person and brought (her) out about 12:30 a.m. to a waiting ambulance.”
Rescue teams considered staying with the deceased male until morning, however an on-site avalanche technician said the risk of further slides was too high and the area too dangerous for the SAR members to remain behind in the dark.
“The danger is out there and so many people use the back country in that area,” said Medland. “Unfortunately it was only a matter of time before something happened.”
The Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) issued a special public avalanche warning last week for recreational backcountry users to use extreme caution because fresh snow on top of a weak crust created the potential for large destructive slides.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for powder after that dry spell (January and February) but this weak layer is going to be a problem for the foreseeable future,” said the centre’s Karl Klassen. “Staying safe will require patience and discipline as long as this layer is in play.”