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A particularly dangerous year for avalanches, Search and Rescue member says

A Bighorn helicopter sits just below the slide path of the avalanche near Gray Creek Pass. - Courtesy Peter Reid
A Bighorn helicopter sits just below the slide path of the avalanche near Gray Creek Pass.
— image credit: Courtesy Peter Reid

CAROLYN GRANT/Daily Bulletin

One man is dead following an avalanche just above the Gray Creek Pass on Tuesday afternoon.

Peter Reid from Kimberley Search and Rescue says that both the Nelson and Kimberley search and rescue units responded.

"It appears that a father and his son-in-law went for a sled ride up in the Gray Creek Pass area," Reid said. "They were on a spur road, and went to turn their sleds around and triggered an avalanche. The father managed to get out and went down to Crawford Bay to call 911. The other was completely involved."

Reid says Nelson SAR was on the scene in about 15 minutes. It took Kimberley 45 minutes as they had to wait for a helicopter to come from Fernie.

"It took about an hour for the Nelson unit to locate the man," Reid said. "They located him from a RECO device on his sled. He was right beside his sled, less than a metre deep."

RECO devices, Reid says, are reflectors sewn into snowmobile clothing and located on sleds. Search and Rescue units and ski patrols are given the detectors.

"We use it when we know the subject doesn't have a beacon," Reid said.

Despite the victim being found only a meter deep, Nelson SAR members were unable to resuscitate him and he was pronounced deceased once he was transported to Nelson.

The BC Coroners Service had not yet released the name of the victim at press time.

Reid says the avalanche was not a particularly large one, perhaps 400 m wide and 600 m deep.

"It wasn't that big. I might class it as a 1.5 or 2. It was a cut block facing west and they were  parked underneath it. Just the open cut block slid. They might have thought they were safe there but everything is dangerous. Just because you are on a logging road doesn't mean you are safe. Logging roads go through avalanche terrain."

Reid says avalanche terrain is particularly dangerous this year and he believes that sometimes people see a rating of "considerable" from the Avalanche Centre and think that means it's okay.

"People think considerable means safe, but it means avalanches are likely and human-triggered avalanches are very likely. People are misjudging what considerable means. There has been lots of discussion about maybe changing the word.

"There is also the thought that 'it can't happen to me' or 'I've been sledding up here for years and it's always been safe'. This year it isn't."

Kimberley SAR has a snocat, but Reid says they wouldn't take it out on a rescue right now because it's too dangerous.

"We are seeing slides taking out old growth, not just in cut blocks. That Revelstoke slide this week was massive."

He says that Kimberley and Cranbrook SAR units have built a snow study pit behind the ski hill.

"Basically you've got ball bearings under a snow pack. It takes quite a bit to trigger it — a skier might not, but a snowmobile would. But when it rips, it's big."

Reid urges backcountry users to take a good look at avalanche conditions, and if they must go out, go out prepared because it is unlikely rescue teams will reach you in time.

"Avalanche response is recovery," he said. "You need to save yourself. We can't respond fast enough."

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