Police are gathering evidence to determine whether or not to recommend charges of criminal negligence against the survivor of an avalanche on Whistler Mountain New Year’s Day that killed his companion.
Both were in a permanently closed area near the top of the mountain.
The two triggered a small avalanche in an area known as Hanging Roll, west of the Peak Chair. The slide carried them over 75-metre cliffs to the West Bowl run below. Neither was buried by the avalanche.
The 29-year-old skier died, likely due to injuries sustained in the fall, and the 21-year-old snowboarder, Ben Moses, is now in Vancouver General Hospital recovering from serious but non-life threatening injuries.
“In this particular case we are actively investigating and if there is enough evidence for charges we will recommend charges to crown counsel,” said RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair of the Sea to Sky Policing Services.
“It is done on a case by case basis. There is a responsibility to attempt to change irresponsible behaviour at ski resorts.”
Whistler-Blackcomb’s senior vice president of operations Doug Forseth said it was up to police to determine if charges are warranted.
But, he said: “Anything that helps people get focused and paying attention (to this issue) is probably a good thing.
“There are permanent posts drilled into the rock and three levels of wire cable to make a fence and the area is posted as permanently closed,” Forseth said of the Hanging Roll area.
“You can’t just ski through that, you would clearly know.
“If we catch people in that area it is an immediate loss of pass. It is very dangerous.”
Forseth said the snowboarder, a pass holder, would lose his privileges for at least a year.
He would not confirm or deny whether either of the two people involved in the incident were Whistler-Blackcomb employees. Both were Whistler residents though Moses is from LaSalle, Ontario.
Ski patrollers were alerted to the accident by witnesses and rushed to the scene, arriving about 11:40 a.m. The accident happened about 15 minutes earlier. Efforts to revive the skier were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The snowboarder was taken off the mountain and transferred to the Whistler Health Care Centre and then on to Vancouver General Hospital.
Both the RCMP and the coroner are investigating and neither are releasing the names.
The family of the deceased skier has asked that his name not be released.
Full avalanche control was done on Sunday following some fresh snowfall. Only one centimetre of snow fell on Monday and winds were light.
While sending condolences to the family Forseth also said: “There is one very basic message here. The signage is out there for a reason. It is for their safety and we want people to give signage due respect.
“These are needless losses. There are so many places people can go to get good powder without putting yourself or others at risk.
“Hopefully some people will learn some lessons out of this harsh reality.”
This is not the first time that adventure seekers have been swept over the cliff, said LeClair, who has been patrolling on the mountains for 14 years.
In February 2001 two skiers were swept over the same cliffs though in that case both survived.
“I was on the scene for that one,” said LeClair.
“I have taken people out of there myself.
“People do go in there looking for that thrill and it is a fine line. It is a very, very, very, treacherous risky terrain in there and that is why it is closed.”