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Skier Dies in Banff on Classic 3/4 Couloir at Moraine Lake

As rescue numbers skyrocket during the global pandemic

A skier has died in Banff National Park, above Moraine Lake, on the classic ski line the 3/4 Couloir. There’s limited information about the fatality except there was a group of three to five skiers descending when one fell the length of the slope.

The couloir is between peak 3 (Bowlen) and peak 4 (Tonsa) of the over 10,000-foot peaks encircling Moraine Lake. The 3/4 is one of the more commonly climbed and skied lines that has seen many ascents and descents this year. The spring/summer ski season in the Rockies has been one of the best in recent years thanks to the deep snowpack and late summer.

Doug Ward and Greg Hann made the first descent of the 3/4 Couloir in 1970, a year before Ward and Kevin Hann made the first descent of the Aemmer Couloir on Mount Temple. The 3/4 and Aemmer are popular objectives for skiers, but both have a deadly history.

Skiing in the Canadian Rockies goes back to the late 1800’s when Scandinavian forestry workers employed by the CPR near Silver City (a now-gone mining town) used handmade skis for hunting.

It’s been a tragic year in western Canada with a number of deaths being reported. Last week, a hiker died after a tumble on the scree slope below Yamnuska, a few weeks before that a hiker died on Mount Fable and earlier in the spring, Travis TenHove died alpine climbing on Mount Andromeda.

Rescue crews are reporting higher-than-normal rescue calls as parking areas throughout the mountains of Alberta and B.C. overflow with mostly knew-to-the-mountains weekend warriors.

The high number of rescues are not isolated in the Rockies, as West Coast search and rescue crews have been experiencing non-stop calls. Rescue manager BJ Chute said a climber broke his arm on Slhanay on the Birds of Prey route last week. Over the past few days, Squamish SAR have been getting daily calls for hikers, bikers and climbers.

Also on July 18, a coach bus used to bring tourists to the easily-accessible Athabasca Glacier rolled down a slope, killing three and critically injuring 14 of the 27 on board. The tours are operated by the company Pursuit. Spokeswoman Tanya Otis confirmed an Ice Explorer off-road vehicle overturned at 2:09 p.m. as it made its way to the glacier.

“We will provide additional details as they become available. Our immediate concern is with the injured and their families and we are supporting the efforts of first responders,” said Otis.

10 Things to Keep in Mind in the Mountains

1. Start small and work up to bigger objectives.
2. Bring the right amount of gear/water/food/clothing.
3. Bring a map, study a topo and pre-plan your day.
4. Don’t rock climb beneath other parties.
5. The top is only half-way through your day.
6. As the days get shorter, time things appropriately.
7. If you see someone doing something stupid, call them out.
8. Have a plan B and C in case someone is on your route or you don’t have the time.
9. Don’t go alone unless you know the way up and down.
10. Remember that mountains are dangerous places.

The 3/4 Couloir