One skier out of a group of six was caught in an avalanche near Revelstoke yesterday (April 12) and needed to be rescued by helicopter.
While out for a friend’s birthday, the group ski toured out of Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR) on the south side of the mountain, according to the Avalanche Canada Mountain Information Network (MIN) report filed by professional skier, Chris Rubens. Ski touring off the resort is known as “slack country,” and is common in Revelstoke as a faster and easier way to access the backcountry, but is still as dangerous as any other backcountry.
The group decided to drop into the Montana Bowl, which is roughly a kilometre away from RMR. The bowl looked safe to all of the members of the group, so they dropped in. Rubens said that he went first with another friend following close behind. A third skier was near the top of the ridge when they cut across the face, triggering the slide.
Rubens said he immediately started to yell ‘avalanche’ repeatedly and loudly, following his training.
The skier was caught in the slide and tumbled fast down the slope amongst the cascading snow before striking a tree.
They were able to see the skier until he was about 50 meters away and that is when they lost sight of him in the snow. Keeping eyes on the skier is another aspect of the training that Rubens put to use.
“Because we had eyes on him for so long. We had close proximity to where he was,” said Rubens.
Rubens and the skier who had already made it to the bottom hiked up to look for the other skier.
“We quickly switched over to search and I had a signal,” said Rubens.
With their transceivers switched on, Rubens told the rest of the group that he’d narrowed down the search to within 50 meters, and the rest of the group up top made their way down the slope to help find the skier.
Fortunately, they were able to locate him swiftly with his glove out of the snow and his face unburied.
The group got the skier out of the snow to assess his injuries. They communicated with RMR’s ski patrol that they would need an airlift, while one member of the group set about clearing a helipad for search and rescue to land.
With a possible dislocated shoulder on one side and the other shoulder banged up, the group prioritized keeping the skier warm and figured out a makeshift toboggan to transport him to the landing zone using a snowboard and bags.
It was around this time that a second group of skiers showed up and helped the first group by providing an alpine rescue tarp, which allowed them to move the injured skier much easier while keeping him warm.
Rubens said in his report that the rest of the operation went smoothly. The helicopter was able to land and load the skier safely, but Rubens added some takeaways to the report that he and the group felt helped their situation.
“Our big learnable from the day is, radios played a really important role in both communicating within our group as well as being able to call and coordinate a rescue,” said Rubens, adding he and the members of his group would not make the mistake of touring without the rescue tarp.
“Maybe call it complacency with the so-called ‘slack country’ or a mellow spring day. The ease of use and keeping someone warm are unbeatable. It won’t be coming out of my bag again,” said Rubens.
Rubens finished his thorough report on Avalanche Canada’s website by thanking the ski patrol at RMR, Revelstoke Search and Rescue, Selkirk Mountain Helicopters, and the group of skiers who found them and helped.
The skier caught in the slide was taken initially to Queen Victoria Hospital in Revelstoke but was transferred to Kamloops. After further examination, they found the skier’s shoulder was not just dislocated, but also broken in places. Upon striking the tree, he also broke five ribs and punctured his lung, but is not in life-threatening condition.
The avalanche conditions near Revelstoke are currently ‘considerable’ in the alpine, and ‘moderate’ for the treeline and below. To check conditions, visit Avalanche Canada’s website.