Parks Canada said a young man in his 20s was killed over the weekend after being caught in an avalanche in Banff National Park.
At around 10 a.m. Sunday, safety specialists with Parks Canada were notified of an avalanche on Mount Victoria, just west of Lake Louise along the Alberta/B.C. border.
Two local skiers set out earlier Sunday to climb the mountain but turned back mid-way through their ascent because of strong winds and poor conditions.
“They made a good decision to turn around and start their descent,” Tim Haggarty, a visitor safety technician with Banff National Parks, said Monday.
“They were experiencing strong wind that was transporting the snow that accumulated over the previous week and they were concerned that higher on the route, conditions would be dangerous.”
On their way down the mountain, the skiers were separated a bit by the terrain, so one skier followed the other’s path.
“This was an unwitnessed event, but we can guess that the first skier would have triggered this avalanche as he entered the slope,” Haggarty explained. “He would have been pushed, probably, by this avalanche down the slope – a steep snow slope, about 40 degrees – for a few hundred metres before he would have been pushed over a large cliff.”
Haggarty said the second skier eventually caught up to his friend farther down the mountain.
“His friend was largely on the surface, having just fallen off of a large cliff, and (it) took very little time for the second skier to clear an airway, check for a pulse and realize that there were no signs of life.”
The second skier was able to make his way to the viewpoint trail above the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house and find help, but recovery operations were not possible Sunday because of strong winds in the area.
The recovery operation resumed early Monday morning when Parks Canada staff were able to retrieve the victim.
Commonly referred to as “the death trap,” Haggarty said the mountain poses a number of hazards to mountaineers throughout the year.
“It would be given such a flashy title because of the fact that there are a number of complex overlapping hazards on that spot. People that are travelling this route would be travelling on a complex glacier,” he said.
“They need to use a rope and protect themselves from the hazard of falling into a crevasse. And while they’re travelling, if they’re too slow, there’s the potential of being hit by seracs, or ice cliffs, that would cave off of the rock cliffs above them.”
Haggarty said avalanches are quite common throughout the year, but it is somewhat unique to see this type of avalanche in September.
“What tends to be a little different here is, in the summer months, avalanches are typically generated by heating from the sun and temperatures creating loose snow avalanches,” he said.
“In the winter months, we tend to see slab avalanches such as this one. So it might be a little bit early for a skier to be involved in a slab avalanche, but anytime you look out towards the mountains here and they’re white and the wind is blowing, you can expect that there would be slabs forming in the mountains and mountaineers have to be very careful.”
Haggarty said both men were extremely experienced skiers. The man who died was from Golden, he said. The second skier is from Lake Louise.