By Clare Ogilvie
Several local skiers were caught in a small avalanche on Whistler Mountain last weekend, during Avalanche Awareness Days.
All survived but one woman was evacuated by helicopter out of the West Bowl area with a suspected broken femur.
The slide, a Class 1, came down in the upper area of Cockalorum, an in-bound ski run.
Patrollers had done avalanche control in the area that morning using hand charges.
“It was one of those days where a lot of new snow came down and (avalanche control was done), but there are still pockets of powder and locals, well we chase those pockets,” said Mountain safety manager Dave Reid.
“And when you get those small pockets and you send five or six people in there jumping up and down that is when it can be moved.
“It was a Class 1 avalanche, which means it was barely there, but because it took people for a ride we are considering it a Class 1.”
The residents skied into the area and set off the slide. Then more skiers came in from above releasing even more of the powder pockets.
The group was carried downhill by the force of the cascading snow and as the avalanche petered out. All but one managed to ski out safely. Patrollers were on the scene within minutes to secure the area and help the skier caught in the slide.
Reid said Class 1 slides are seen occasionally on the mountain, especially during periods of continuous snowfall as has been experienced recently. Whistler has received 144 centimetres in the seven days leading up to Jan. 17.
But it is very rare for mountain users to be injured in Class 1 slides.
Reid went to the site of the avalanche Sunday and found the snow to be loose and not the solid chunk style that often takes people’s lives.
The Canadian Avalanche Association organized its eighth annual Avalanche Awareness Days at ski areas across the country last weekend. Ski patrol on Blackcomb had displays of avalanche safety equipment and conducted beacon search contests for the public.
There have been several avalanches in B.C. in the last week, when much of the province has pounded with snow. A patroller and eight skiers were caught in an in-bound avalanched at Fernie on Jan. 14. All survived that slide.
Also on Jan. 14, an avalanche worker was killed by an avalanche near Island Lake Lodge, a cat-skiing operation near Fernie. The avalanche occurred while the skier was checking a weather station. The Class 3.5 avalanche was triggered naturally and was reported to have run beyond its known limits into the treed area where the weather station was.
On Jan. 7 a snowboarder was killed in a Class 2 avalanche in a permanently closed area at Kicking Horse resort.