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Avalanche victim was ‘safety-conscious’

The Nelson Search and Rescue crew joined other area authorities Monday morning at the Nelson airport in preparation for the effort to get the victim
The Nelson Search and Rescue crew joined other area authorities Monday morning at the Nelson airport in preparation for the effort to get the victim's body out of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.
— image credit: Bob Hall photo

The victim of Sunday’s avalanche in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park was Manfred Rockel.

Friends are remembering the 46-year-old Calgary man as an avid backcountry skier, accomplished climber and safety-conscious man.

Michelle Cederberg told the Calgary Herald she dated Rockel six years ago and he taught her how to travel in the backcountry.

“I learned backcountry from him. We were always making sure we did the right steps to make sure to ensure our safety. I never felt unsafe with him,” Cederberg said.

She described him as an avid outdoorsman and avid backcountry skier.

“He wasn't one to take unnecessary risks. I think that's the part that I’m struggling with because conditions are quite sketchy in the backcountry right now and I’d hate to think he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

In the summer of 2009, Cederberg, Rockel and another friend traveled in Europe.

While in Switzerland, the trio decided not just to go hiking as planned, but to scale the Matterhorn.

“All of us are quite heartbroken. He was very kindhearted, a really good guy. He had a lot of friends; everyone is having a really hard time with this, probably because we know how conscientious he is. He loved the outdoors, loved climbing, loved backcountry, loved skiing. He was doing something that he loved.”

Rockel was vice-president of exploration for Harness Petroleum Inc.

According to the website of another company whose board he sat on, he had over 20 years of engineering experience. He graduated from the University of Alberta in 1988 with a Bachelor of Science in petroleum engineering.

Rockel was killed while backcountry skiing on Sunday. Nelson Search and Rescue recovered his body Monday afternoon.

RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk says it was retrieved “without incident” and flown back to Nelson via helicopter.

Rockel was skiing with a party of about eight people, although as many as 15 were staying at the Kokanee Glacier cabin in all. They were a combination of Alberta and B.C. residents.

The initial call came in about 12:30 p.m. Sunday that a skier suffered life-threatening injuries after being buried in an avalanche.

Although he was rescued by his companions within five minutes and treated by a doctor who was part of the group, Rockel suffered serious head trauma and was non-responsive.

Moskaluk says it remains unclear whether the others will stay at the cabin the rest of the week or leave sooner.

“They weren’t part and parcel of the recovery effort because they’re not in any danger,“ he says. “They will determine what they do next via their private air carriers.”

The remainder of the group was uninjured when the slide came down Sunday afternoon.

Two local helicopters assisted in the operation Monday, along with Nelson Search and Rescue, and Ministry of Transportation avalanche technicians.

Murray Springman of Nelson Search and Rescue says members were dropped on a ridge and after explosives were set off to stabilize the slope, some of them skied half an hour down to the victim, whose body had again been covered with snow.

“There was a bit of snow on the subject, but our spotters up top could see he did not move,” Springman says.

Rockel was loaded onto the helicopter, which flew back to the lodge to pick up the avalanche technicians and then returned to Nelson about 1:40 p.m. The seven members of the search team returned in two trips, the last arriving about 4:30 p.m.

“Because of the very high avalanche danger and the explosives used, this was a very complex recovery,” Springman says. “We wanted to make it as safe as possible.”

A helicopter was flown in on Sunday from Castlegar following the incident, but forced to turn back due to poor weather.

According to RCMP, the slide occurred at Tanal Peak, and was considered a magnitude 2.5 avalanche, with a 100-meter long fracture line. It’s not clear what triggered it, nor whether any of the other skiers besides Rockel were actually caught.

Moskaluk says the group was equipped with essential probes and tranceivers.

The B.C. coroner’s office is now investigating the death, although a coroner has not been on site.

“In this case, safety-wise, it wasn’t suitable for any additional personnel to be on scene other than who was actually required to effect the recovery,” Moskaluk said.

He adds the RCMP will help collect statements as the other skiers at the cabin return.

Visitors who access the popular Kokanee Glacier cabin do so by winning a lottery. They stay seven nights, from Saturday to Friday, in a season that runs from January to April. Orientation is conducted on the Saturday, so this week’s fatal slide occurred on the group’s first full day of skiing.

It was a horrendous few days for avalanches in western Canada. Seven people from Calgary survived after being caught in a slide at Fernie Alpine Resort on Saturday, while two men were killed by an avalanche in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country.

On Sunday the avalanche risk in the Kootenay Boundary was rated high in the alpine and considerable at and below treeline, according to the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

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