A 28-year-old woman from Cochrane, Alta., died on April 13 while skiing in the backcountry of Mont des Poilus, B.C.
Parks Canada said a group of five skiers was climbing a ridge near the summit “when a cornice failure caused one member of the party to fall through the cornice and down the slope below, resulting in fatal injuries.”
The mountain is about 3,166 metres high, explained Parks Canada’s Steve Holeczi, and is on the Wapta Icefield in Yoho National Park.
This group left their skis down lower and were hiking up the summit ridge, Parks Canada added.
“Near the summit, one of the members of the party triggered a very large cornice.”
Cornices are overhangs of snow that form on any ridge of a mountain that form over the winter.
“Some are large, some are small. They fall off once in a while. But certainly in the spring, they’re at their maximum size and when it really starts heating up in the spring, you may see more activity where those fall off the ridge naturally,” Holeczi said.
“Certainly, if you’re climbing up a ridge you have to be really cognizant of where the edge is, but that can be very difficult to determine. It kind of just looks like a rolling hump.”
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Some cornices can hang over 10, 20 or 30 feet, he said.
The cornice collapse also triggered an avalanche, Parks Canada told Global News.
“These cornices are very large this time of year in general and if you get too close to them, they can trigger, and some of these are very, very large. So that happened and it took this person approximately 300 metres down the northeast face of the mountain and unfortunately caused fatal injuries,” Holeczi said.
The agency was alerted by an InReach SOS activation and safety staff located the deceased person at the bottom of the slope on top of avalanche debris.
“Parks Canada would like to extend their sincere condolences to the family and friends of this individual.”
RCMP confirmed the person who died was a 28-year-old woman from Cochrane, Alta. Police said the fall happened at about 11:42 a.m. on April 13.
They said the woman’s body was recovered by search and rescue and the B.C. Coroners Service is investigating.
Parks Canada said: “This incident emphasizes the risk cornices can pose when travelling in the mountains, particularly during spring when they are large and warm temperatures can make them more prone to collapsing.
“Parties should be particularly careful when approaching ridgelines where cornices are present.”
Anyone travelling into the backcountry is responsible for their own safety, Parks Canada added. Guests should carry a beacon, shovel and probe and check the avalanche forecast ahead of time.
Holeczi said this particular group was well prepared.
“The party was able to use their SOS InReach they had, and they also had a radio. They were well prepared. They got ahold of us right away and were able to help us with locating (them) over the radio.
“They also had a rope and they were able to try and get someone over the edge just to have a look to see what happened. Given the circumstances, they did everything that they could.”