Home > Gripped Outdoors

Skier Dies in Cornice Collapse in Yoho National Park

Skiers and climbers are reminded to keep cornices in mind when heading out this spring

A woman from Cochrane, west of Calgary, died while backcountry skiing in Yoho National Park. She fell around 300 metres down a snowy face after a cornice broke.

Parks Canada officials say it happened April 13, when a group of five skiers were on a ridge near the summit of Mount des Poilus. Officials say the fall was fatal, and also triggered an avalanche.

Brian Webster, visitor safety manager for Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks, said his rescue team was notified around noon via a satellite communication device. “We were able to fairly quickly communicate with them via text messaging and get an idea of what was happening,” he said. “We immediately geared up knowing that it could be a complicated rescue-recovery.”

Four visitor safety specialists from Banff responded to the incident by helicopter. The four other members of the ski touring party were making their way down the slope toward the victim when the rescue crews arrived.

“We swung one of our rescuers in to the patient, determined she was deceased, and then evacuated her from the site,” said Webster. Alberta RCMP confirmed the victim was a woman in her late 20s.

Webster said the skiers were well equipped with avalanche gear and communication devices. He said they knew what to do during the emergency. “They were very cool, calm and collected,” he said. “They reported the accident immediately, which allowed for as much chance as possible for a positive recovery. And then they were also prepared to do self rescue.”

Webster said the event emphasizes the risk cornices can pose, especially in the spring when warm temperatures arrive.  “It’s often difficult to determine where the cornice starts and it’s best to give them a wide berth for maximum safety,” said Webster.

In April 2017, five hikers died in B.C. when a cornice collapsed on Mount Harvey. Ice and alpine climbers also need to be cautious of cornices in spring and should avoid routes with serious overhead hazards on warm days.

Location of the cornice collapse on Mount des Poulis in Yoho National Park. Photo Courtesy of Parks Canada