Amid a special avalanche warning, five men ski touring near the Black Prince day use area on Saturday triggered a fatal avalanche that was 80 metres wide, one metre deep and 600 metres long.
When the avalanche ended, no one was buried—all five men were above the snow’s surface.
But the powerful snowslide injured the men as it dragged them through trees.
By the time rescuers helicoptered into the area, one man was pronounced dead from associated trauma.
They were all dragged through a series of smaller trees
“Three people had minor injuries, one person had a lower leg injury and one person had been raked through the trees so much that it ended up being a fatal injury,” said Kananaskis Public Safety Specialist Mike Koppang.
“They were all dragged through a series of smaller trees. As a result of that, there were associated injuries.”
RCMP identified the victim as a 34-year-old man from Canmore.
He died despite the efforts of two people in the group, who performed CPR on him as they waited for rescuers to arrive.
The five men, each wearing the proper safety gear—beacons, probes and shovels—were ski-touring near Black Price, which is located off the Smith-Dorrien Highway about 45 km south of Canmore in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park on Saturday.
Koppang said the group, all believed to be in their 30s, triggered the size 2.5 slide around 1 p.m. on an east facing slope at about 2,400 metres.
“When the avalanche ended, they were all on the surface,” Koppang said.
The group immediately began administering first-aid on the injured.
With no cellphone coverage in the area, two people left the mountain and ran to their vehicles for help.
“They had lost their skis, so they did have to run out through the snow. In the avalanche, a lot of their gear had come off,” Koppang said.
The two men drove north to Mount Engadine Lodge, where they called 911.
Rescue workers received the call for help around 3 p.m. Saturday, approximately two hours after the slide had occurred.
Koppang said an alpine helicopter from Canmore, one public safety specialist, five conservation officers from Peter Loughheed Provincial Park and STARS air ambulance responded to the call.
The two helicopters landed on the Spray Lakes Road at a staging area with EMS.
Two conservation officers and a public safety specialist were flown in through heli-sling to assess the three people who remained on the mountain.
The 34-year-old man was airlifted by helicopter from the side of the mountain to the staging area on Spray Lakes Road, where he was pronounced dead.
The two other victims who remained on the mountain, one with a lower leg injury and one with minor injuries, were also helicoptered to the staging area.
Koppang said the avalanche danger in the area was rated considerable at the time.
On Friday, a special avalanche warning, was issued for the mountain parks including Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Jasper and Kananaskis Country.
Officials have called the snowpack in the Rockies complex and noted a recent storm dropped 60 to 80 centimetres of fresh snow on weaker layers.
Saturday’s fatal avalanche comes after Sgt. Mark Salesse, a search and rescue technician with the Canadian Forces, went missing on Feb. 5 after an avalanche swept him off a ledge during an ice climb in Banff National Park.
His death was the first avalanche fatality in Western Canada this winter and his body was recovered on February 11.