A human-triggered avalanche tore down the slopes of an out-of-bounds ski area near Panorama Mountain Village on April 1st. Although up to a dozen people were originally feared missing and buried, rescue workers eventually determined that the avalanche claimed no victims.
At 2:30 p.m. on April Fool’s Day, Columbia Valley RCMP received word that an avalanche had occurred near the Taynton Bowl area at Panorama Mountain Village.
According to Columbia Valley Search and Rescue and RCMP, the avalanche was triggered by skiers in an out-of-bounds area known as Jessie’s Monster, and travelled far enough that it spilled in-bounds into Never-Never Land in Taynton Bowl.
The avalanche was labelled a Class 3, and ran for more than a kilometre, creating debris more than three-metres deep in some places, said Steve Williams, Search and Rescue (SAR) president.
“I have been here for 16 years and I have never seen a slide that big in that bowl.”
A local adult male skied down the slope first, and was followed by an adult female, according to RCMP. The local woman is thought to have triggered the avalanche.
Her ski partner was able to avoid the slide path, but the woman was caught up in the churning avalanche and was swept 200-300 metres and over a cliff. She was airlifted from the scene with non-life threatening injuries.
At the time of the avalanche, Mr. Williams happened to be skiing in the general area. He didn’t witness the slide, but saw the debris and raced to the site along with other SAR members who were also skiing that afternoon.
He was on-site within minutes, and joined Panorama Ski Patrol members who had also been nearby when the avalanche ripped down the mountain.
According to RCMP, original reports of how many skiers could have been in the avalanche’s path varied from zero to as many as a dozen.
Facing uncertainty and fearing people could be trapped under the heavy snow debris, 60 rescuers from a number of organizations rushed to join the large-scale rescue. Four helicopters joined the effort, and search dog teams were flown in from Golden and Cranbook.
After a hasty search to assess the site and check obvious burial sites, rescuers began methodically probing the deep, chunky debris in hopes of locating possible victims.
Search teams diligently combed the debris field until nightfall, but found nothing.
With no sign of beacon signals, gloves, toques, or ski equipment anywhere, rescuers were confident no one was buried as was initially feared. The search was completed the next morning, and was called off.
“We’re really lucky more people weren’t,” Mr. Williams said. “It was really impressive how quickly the search effort came together.”
The cost of the search, which will likely total thousands of dollars, will be handled by the province.
Chris Elder, director of sales and marketing for Panorama Mountain Village said the resort has not yet discussed any possible repercussions to the skiers.
The boundary the skiers crossed is an open boundary, meaning people can leave the resort on their own volition.
“We just want to reiterate that when people do go outside of resort boundaries, they know and understand the current conditions,” Mr. Elder said. “They need to be prepared with courses, equipment, and background knowledge. They also need to tell people where they are going.
“They were very fortunate and we’re very happy everyone came out breathing.”
The Columbia Valley RCMP would like to thank everyone involved in the search effort, including Columbia Valley, Golden, and Cranbrook Search and Rescue, Panorama Fire and Rescue, Panorama Ski Patrol, Toby Creek Adventures, R.K. Heliski.
This is the fifth incident Columbia Valley Search and Rescue has responded to this year. The local group has 15 volunteer members, and covers the area from the Bugaboos to Canal Flats, to the Alberta border. To volunteer with the rescue crew, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a photo of the avalanche aftermath, go to: www.columbiavalleypioneer.com.