Ski patrollers on Blackcomb confirmed the worst on Christmas Day, after discovering the body of a 20-year-old snowboarder who was reported missing the day before.
The male, identified as Santa Rosa resident and Humboldt State University student Cooper Plaxco, was visiting Whistler with his family for the holidays.
He was reported missing on Dec. 24 at roughly 4 p.m. A search was started immediately by patrollers, but was called off at 6:15 p.m. due to poor weather conditions and darkness.
According to Doug Forseth, senior vice-president of operations at Whistler Blackcomb, confirmed on Tuesday that the male was skiing in the gully to skier's right on Zig Zag, which leads to the Crystal Chair.
"Two of his partners stayed on the run and went to the bottom to meet at Crystal, but he never showed up," said Forseth. "He was quite an accomplished rider, but we think he punched through a snow bridge over the creek and went down about five metres. It was a big hole. Anybody riding by, and people probably did, would have avoided it."
The next morning the ski patrol brought in three dog teams. Just after 10 a.m. on Christmas Day the man's body was found in Horstman Creek.
Friends described Plaxco as a good athlete, a great skater and a skilled snowboarder. His Facebook page lists 272 friends. He was also a fan of reggae and rock and roll.
The conditions were stormy on Christmas Eve and overnight. The temperature was relatively mild at -4 degrees Celsius, but there were high winds and heavy snowfall. In total, 116 cm of new snow was reported between Dec. 23 and Dec. 25, with 173 cm of total snowfall the week before Christmas.
Whistler Blackcomb's Critical Incident Team is providing support to Plaxco's family and have expressed their sincere condolences.
Skiers and boarders are reminded to always travel with a friend and use caution when leaving the designated runs. Early season conditions are still in effect for large areas of the mountains for a number of reasons, including exposed creeks.
"One of the comments we keep trying to emphasize with people is that if you're going out of bounds or into the trees, to do it with partners," said Forseth. "That would have been (Plaxco's) only chance, if someone had seen him go in.
"Always, when you're going off-piste and you're not sure what the terrain is like or what's going on, you should go cautiously."
The Whistler death was just one of five deaths reported at ski hills across North America this past week.
On Dec. 28 it was reported that a 24-year-old male snowboarder from Fullerton, California was killed after hitting a tree at Mountain High ski resort.
On Dec. 24, two people were killed after a collision at the Hogadon Ski Area in Wyoming. Craig Shirley, a 23-year-old snowboarder, slammed into Elise Johnson, 5. He died quickly as a result of "massive chest injuries," while she was taken to the hospital in stable condition with a head injury. The young girl was wearing a helmet. However, she also died as a result of chest injuries.
A 15-year-old boy from Portland, Oregon, Ilya Sirosh, was found dead on the slopes of the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort on the evening of Dec. 22. The snowboarder was lying face down in the snow when patrollers came across him. He was not wearing a helmet. The cause of death has not been determined.
There were other accidents reported as well. A British man was killed in an avalanche while skiing in France.
In Bormio, Italy, Canada's Louis-Pierre Helie and American Marco Sullivan were airlifted to a local hospital Tuesday after crashes in training for a World Cup downhill. Helie suffered a serious head injury, while Sullivan's head injury was less serious and he was able to ski down the course under his own power.