Two people are dead following an avalanche Sunday morning on an Alberta mountain that’s popular with climbers.
Steve Young, a communications officer with Jasper National Park, said the slab avalanche occurred on Mount Andromeda in the Columbia Icefield near Jasper, Alta. The avalanche happened at about 7:45 a.m., according to the Jasper RCMP.
“When we got there we found that there had been an avalanche. It came down from about 3,000 metres right down to the valley bottom on Mount Andromeda and unfortunately, two people passed away as a result of the avalanche,” Young said.
“It’s basically like concrete. A big slab comes down. So it was a Size 3, so we’re talking a pretty sizeable chunk of snow.”
People hiking in the area saw the avalanche and called Parks Canada, according to Young.
“From most people’s point of view, though, it’s something you would notice as you’re heading down the Icefields Parkway or looking out from the parking lot at the icefield centre,” Young said.
Young had no information about what brought the two victims to the area, but said the mountain is known as a popular climbing destination.
“It is part of the actual Columbia Icefield glacier complex. So it’s kind of on the Jasper side of the icefield, if you will, as you look out from the icefield centre. So it does have a section that’s glacier all year long, so it’s pretty popular among those extreme outdoor enthusiasts that love to climb mountains.”
RCMP Sgt. Ron Bumbry told Global News it appears the pair was involved in recreational activities in the mountain area, “based on the gear that was recovered from the scene.”
Young said crews from the visitor safety team were dispatched to the area — one from Banff and two from Jasper — along with dogs, who located the victims.
Young did not have any information about the identities or hometowns of those who died. The RCMP said the Medical Examiner’s Office is working to confirm the identities of the deceased.
Young said the avalanche is under investigation.
“We’ve had the back and forth temperature thing going on. So it’s still quite cold at night and then it warms up during the day and we had snow here last week,” Young said.
“There’s still a lot of snow on the mountains for sure, even in the townsite let alone down on the icefields, which is at a higher elevation and obviously melts a lot slower. That usually can make things a little less stable than they normally would be.”
He added while Parks Canada does avalanche control along the highway, it’s typically done by the end of May.
“In nature, Mother Nature decides when stuff comes down so if it’s not affecting the roadway, it’s still a concern and we try to make sure that adventurers have all of the information they need and all the equipment and safety equipment before heading out, but certainly Mother Nature is in control in the mountains.”
Young said it’s important for even the most experienced outdoor enthusiasts to be prepared for the adventure they’re about to embark upon.
“Prepare before you even leave the house is the best thing you can do. Making sure you have the right equipment, like emergency beacon locators, all the avalanche safety equipment that’s available. Most of the adventurers that go out on places like that have all that equipment and it can still be a daunting experience and that’s with all the precautions,” he said.
“A guide can look over things, they know what to look for, those subtle things that Joe citizen would not pick up — that’s what they do and that’s why they’ve been accredited as mountain guides. So if you’re really looking for that kind of experience, a guide is a really good resource that you may want to consider before you head out.”
STARS Air Ambulance had dispatched three helicopters to the area.
Spokeswoman Deborah Tetley said the choppers later “stood down” because they were “not medically required.”
Young said there were reports earlier in the day of more people on the mountain, but everyone else was located safely and no other injuries were reported.
More information on outdoor safety and avalanche conditions can be found online.
— With files from The Canadian Press.