Backcountry danger high — Avalanche claims life of Crawford Bay man

The Crawford Bay pair caught in an avalanche above the Grey Creek Pass thought they were snowmobiling in a safe zone.

A Bighorn helicopter

A Bighorn helicopter

The Crawford Bay pair caught in an avalanche above the Grey Creek Pass that claimed one person’s life Tuesday afternoon thought they were sledding in a safe zone.

But Nelson Search and Rescue search manager Chris Armstrong said there are few places to safely recreate in the backcountry considering the current avalanche risk.

“They were in what they considered safe conditions and safe areas, low slopes, clear cuts, logging roads,” he said. “Because of these conditions all these places where people are sledding and skiing thinking they’re safe, right now, they’re actively releasing in many places. People have to be very wary of being in the backcountry. There’s really no safe place right now.”

The father and son-in-law had parked their snowmobiles beneath a clear cut on a low slope and witnessed the natural-release slide start to happen,” described Armstrong whose team was first on the scene.

“They witnessed it crown and start moving very slowly and they thought they may have been in a safe spot,” he said. “Before they realized they were in danger, the entire slope started to go and only one of them was able to fire up their machine and spin around and race out of the area.”

The 29-year-old son-in-law was caught in the debris and wasn’t able to make it out alive. The surviving snowmobiler was able to get to Crawford Bay to call 911.

Both the Nelson and Kimberley search and rescue units responded to the 2:30 p.m. call from the RCMP with Nelson’s team arriving within 15 minutes.

Armstrong described the avalanche as “massive” at 1.5 kilometres wide and 500 metres long. Because the snowmobilers didn’t have transceivers, search and rescue initiated a “hasty search” in which one member operated a RECO search.

RECO devices are reflectors sewn into snowmobile clothing and located on sleds. Search and Rescue units and ski patrols are given the detectors to help with location.

“One of our members was able to find the sled that he was on and subsequently found him just down slope from the sled,” said Armstrong. “It was kind of a miracle that our guys are trained to use that device and they went to the most likely spot in this massive avalanche… or else it would have been a very large search.”

The man was found just after 4:30 p.m. submerged in about one metre of snow but was unable to be resuscitated.

“We worked on him for a while but he succumbed to his injuries on the scene,” said Armstrong.

The present avalanche conditions are described as “spooky,” said the search and rescue veteran.

“There are big avalanches happening and they’re running deep and they’re running far.”

In all, 14 volunteer search and rescue personnel were dispatched from Nelson and 6 to 8 volunteers came from Kimberley.

“This is 20 some odd people that left their homes and their kids practices and such to jump in helicopters and go out there,” said Armstrong.

The investigation has been handed over to the BC Coroners Service. The victim’s name hasn’t been released.

This is the second death by avalanche in the Nelson area. Cale Jack, 27, was killed on Kootenay Pass at the end of February.