Man dies in southern Alberta after being buried by avalanche while snowmobiling

Click to play video: 'Southern Alberta man dead following avalanche in Crowsnest Pass'
Southern Alberta man dead following avalanche in Crowsnest Pass
A southern Alberta man is dead after being buried in an avalanche while snowmobiling. – Feb 26, 2024

A man died Saturday after being buried in an avalanche while snowmobiling in southwestern Alberta.

Two men and two children were snowmobiling in a back-country area in the vicinity of the Castle Mountain Resort on Saturday when a slide occurred, RCMP in Crowsnest Pass, Alta., said in a news release.

Avalanche Canada said a group of snowmobilers triggered an avalanche at the head of Gardiner Creek, in Castle Wildland Provincial Park. Two people were initially caught in the slide. One person was able to escape but one person was completely buried by the avalanche and died.

“Despite conducting a companion rescue search, the group was unable to locate the buried victim and rode out to call for help. Search and Rescue located the buried victim the following day and they were found to be deceased.”

Avalanche Canada, a non-government organization dedicated to public avalanche safety, said two people were caught in the slide; not four, as originally reported.

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RCMP said the man who died has been identified as a 46-year-old from Magrath, Alta., but they have not released his name.

His body has been taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Click to play video: 'Winter safety in Alberta’s great outdoors'
Winter safety in Alberta’s great outdoors

According to Avalanche Canada, the Feb. 24 event was a Size 3 “persistent slab” avalanche at an elevation of 2,080 metres.

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The avalanche was approximately 200 metres wide and ran for approximately 250 metres.

“The difference between a Size 1 and a 2 and so forth is exponential,” said Tyson Rettie, an Avalanche Canada forecaster. “Each step is 10 times greater than that of the step before it. So the easiest way to think of a Size 3 is that it’s large enough to destroy a vehicle.”

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The avalanche is believed to have failed on a layer of faceted crystals, a weaker layer in the snowpack created by the recent conditions.

“There was a period of very warm weather that impacted the majority of mountainous regions of Western Canada in mid-January, which was then followed by a very cool and dry period which formed a very significant crust towards the end of January which was then buried in early February. And that is what’s resulted in that weak layer described in the avalanche forecast,” Rettie explained.

This is the third avalanche fatality so far in 2024.

“We’ve got the danger rating for the south Rocky area at ‘high’ in the alpine, and ‘high’ (for the) tree line and ‘considerable’ (for) below (the) tree line and that’s due to the intense precipitation that we’ve had in the last 24-48 hours,” Rettie said.

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On the day of the slide, Feb. 24, the risk level was ‘moderate.’

Anyone heading to the back country is encouraged to be as prepared and safe as possible.

“Getting the gear, getting the training, getting the forecast,” Rettie said, “so you know how to manage your risk when out in the mountains.”

— with files from The Canadian Press


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