Slide triggers avalanche alert

Darrell
Darrell Cole
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Snow slide buries skier up to his chest

Looking back up the hill after a snow slide buried Charlie Stevens up to his chest in snow last Saturday. The incident triggered an avalanche alert from the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

 

WENTWORTH – Charlie Stevens was surprised to see a deluge of snow coming his way while skiing on Higgins Mountain last Saturday.

The 21-year-old Hilden resident, who lives in Wentworth during the winter, was skiing in the backcountry with three friends during Saturday’s snowstorm when he skied down a slope on the east side of the mountain, triggering a snow slide that buried him up to his chest.

The incident triggered an alert from the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

“It was an interesting experience. It’s not something I was expecting,” Stevens said Tuesday. “We were out prospecting areas for a potential ski touring company. We came across this great pitch. I skied down it and it broke away.”

Stevens said the slide was about 30 metres wide and about 30 centimetres deep when it broke away from the hill. He admitted to being surprised it resulted in an avalanche alert.

“I skied down the slope and looked up behind me and saw the snow coming. I was near a gully so I had no place to go. I braced myself because I knew I was going to be OK,” he said. “I wasn’t in any real danger. There were other guys with me and they could see me.”

Stevens said he was able to dig down to free himself from his skis and wiggled his way out of the pile of snow.  He said he is familiar with the area and has skied it his entire life. He doesn’t believe there’s any danger in the area.

Leslie Wilson, who manages nearby Ski Wentworth, said the alert caught her off guard. At first, she thought it was a joke.

“We didn’t believe it at first,” Wilson said. “Someone from the media called and I had to stop them and ask if they were serious.”

Wilson said 40 cm of fresh snow fell on Ski Wentworth over the weekend and said ski conditions are excellent. She stressed there is absolutely no danger of an avalanche or snow slide at the ski hill.

“People don’t need to worry about avalanches at Ski Wentworth,” Wilson said. “There are no issues on our main trails. What happened (on Higgins Mountain) was not an avalanche, the snow pack let go. It was interesting that it became an avalanche alert.”

Karl Klassen, the public avalanche warning service manager for the Canadian Avalanche Centre, said avalanches are rare, but can happen. He said heavy snow and wind contribute to increased avalanche danger.

“While not common, avalanche accidents and even fatalities have occurred in Eastern Canada when the conditions are right,” Klassen told the CBC. “People engaged in activities such as skiing, snowmobiling and tobogganing should be aware of the hazard and take precautions.”

The centre is urging people to avoid steep slopes, gullies and other places where sliding snow could push them into a creek or lake. Klassen said any slope greater than 20 to 25 degrees is a risk, including small pieces of terrain like hills where children toboggan.

dcole@amherstdaily.com

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

 

 

Organizations: Canadian Avalanche Centre, CBC

Geographic location: Eastern Canada

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  • Mr. Slappy
    February 12, 2013 - 21:56

    Dear Miss Wilson, you're incorrect as usual. Being handed a ski hill to "run" does not make you the world authority on all things snow. "the snow pack let go." is actually the definition of an avalanche. An avalanche occurs when there is a weak layer of snow between consecutive snowfalls which allows one or more of the upper layers break free, just like in this instance! Your statement that "People don't need to worry about avalanches at Ski Wentworth" is also negligent and irrational when a warning has been issued by the CAC. You have no one on staff who is trained in Avi forecasting or rescue. Your statement therefore has no factual base. It's entirely possible there could be a slide in the gladed areas or even have a slide break free and end up on a groomed run as some of them do have exposure to potential slide paths. HOWEVER, I do agree that this is all a bit of a joke right now as there is not enough snow to cause any sort of a major slide, though, with each consecutive snowfall landing on this weak layer the risk and size of slides will increase. The added weight of water to the upper layer today and with another foot of snow forecast, there could actually be an avi of some substance in the coming weeks. Charlie was smart or lucky to be skiing in a group, always recommended when skiing off piste.