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Skier Dies in Kananaskis, Heads Up New Backcountry Users

Avalanche Canada has started their winter snow reports, be sure to check conditions before heading out

Ice climbers and skiers are heading to the backcountry in the Canadian Rockies and mountains in B.C., but experts are warning new and keen users to be careful.

On Oct. 19th near the Robertson Glacier in Kananaskis Country there was a fatality involving a 40-year-old backcountry skier from Invermere, B.C. Kananaskis Public Safety (KPS) and Alpine Helicopters responded to the incident around 2:30 p.m.

KPS reported that the “incident happened due to the low early season snow coverage and related hazards in very low angle ski terrain wherein his skis bottomed out, and he pitched forward into a rocky area suffering severe trauma. The subject was not wearing a helmet at the time of the incident. This was not an avalanche incident.”

There was 10 to 30 cm of snow at treeline, but that doesn’t mean the rocks or any of the ground debris will be well covered.

“If you do fall in these areas you will likely get hurt,” said KPS. “The chance of hitting something and getting injured is quiet high. The days are getting shorter so be aware of darkness setting in. Once its dark, any evacuation is more complicated.”

KPS reported this week that forecasters have witnessed many loose dry avalanches off steep terrain not running very far but still active.

“Alpine terrain was getting affected by winds so we suspect slab development to be ongoing in these areas,” said KPS. “Consequences of being caught in even a small slid would result in injury due to the lack of snow and the chance of a ride over rocky terrain.”

Are you a new ice climber? Read Ice Climbing for Beginners: Avalanche Beacons and Recco Tech

Backcountry Skiing

This summer, there was an increse in the number of hikers and campers visiting backcountry areas. It only makes sense that winter 2020/21 will see an increase in backcountry skiers, snowshoers and ice climbers.

When you’re skiing in the backcountry, you’re no longer in a controlled environment. Take an avalanche class so that you are aware of the risks.

Follow conditions reports and ski with experienced backcountry users. Check Avalanche Canada for updated backcountry information here.

We highly recommend that you hire a guide before heading into a new area or before your first days skiing in the backcountry.

Backcountry YYC

Ian Holmes started the Backcountry YYC Facebook page in 2013 and it now has over 12,000 followers. After this week’s fatality, he posted a note and reminder to those in the group. His are good words to keep in mind heading into winter 2020/21. Follow Holmes on Instagram below.

I had headed out to Rae glacier after a storm, and was thrilled to find the glacier, which had been rocky earlier in the week, now in seemingly pristine condition. On the ride down, spinning a small feature I found myself on rocks flying backwards. I landed in a pocket of snow, checked myself to ensure that nothing was out of place, and made my way out far more cautiously. I was suddenly aware that there were sharks everywhere. At a Mission event that night I asked some of the guys what their thoughts were on a forum to give people updates to ensure that the sharks didn’t get anyone else; this group was born. It was an attempt to bring people home safely by giving everyone an accurate idea of what was going on in the mountains.

Over the past decade we have gone from a couple hundred of us who all knew each other to the 12,000+ member group we are now. However, the ethos behind the group has been one we have tried to keep consistent. We are not here to sell people things, or for people to share their insta posts of how rad they are. We are here to keep people alive by giving them the best dose of reality we can. We are here to educate and support.

This week, to lose a member of our community to sharks hurts a lot. It also demands that I remind everyone here, that while we are thrilled for the spreading of stoke about snow and sliding, what we need is honesty about conditions. If it is dust on crust and you are survival skiing a few turns on mostly grass, please save the hockey stop in pow for your social channels… and let us know that it is thin. This winter I expect there will be a lot of new people in the backcountry. This means that those of you who have been out there for a while need to lend a roll in mentoring them. We are a community. We need to behave like one. Be friendly, take the time to have conversations with strangers about what they are seeing in the terrain. Save the internet shaming, armchair wisdom, and other bullshit for a place where you won’t get banned for annoying me.

For those of you interested in the education piece: I am in talks with Av Canada, the ACC, and a couple others about hosting a Backcountry YYC Safety series of events via some kind of online platform this year. These would be various segments on safe travel, crevasse rescue, reading terrain, etc. After the success of the evenings that Christopher Ludwig and I have been MCing (okay, he MCs and I get in the way and am loud) at The Source, we thought this might be a cool way to give something to the community. I would love to hear in the comments what other kind of content people would like to see or hear. If you happen to be a guide/knowledge expert/story teller who would be interested in donating some time. Please send me a message and we can start to put something together.

Beyond that. Av Canada does need our help. Beyond obvious donations, they are needing some volunteers to help with some logo and web design. If anyone would like to donate some karma time to them, they would be hugely appreciative. I might even toss in a case of beer and some swag to whomever can help them out. If you do have some experience and time, email: acf@avalanche.ca. If you end up doing the work and want that beer, send me a message.

For now. As always. I am grateful this community exists. Keep each other safe this year. Lets try and bring everyone home.