March 31, 2015 - 7:30 PM
VERNON - An 18-year-old skier from Enderby ducked under a boundary fence in the Goat’s Eye Mountain area of Sunshine Village Ski Resort, near Banff March 27. He found himself on what looked like solid ground but when it gave way, he dropped some 500 metres—much of it free fall. That's like falling from the top of the world's tallest building.
Grant Statham, a visitor safety specialist with Parks Canada, says the man appears to have stepped out of his skiis and walked over to the out of bounds area for a better view. He didn’t realize he was standing on a fragile accumulation of snow called a corniced ridge, which caved under his weight.
“He fell 500 metres, a terrible fall,” Statham says. “Given the nature of where he fell, I’ve got to say, he’s unbelievably lucky to be alive.”
The tumble set off a small, size two avalanche which likely helped break his fall.
“That’s probably what saved this guy, he was cushioned by the snow falling with him,” Statham says.
The teen was alone when the cornice gave out underneath him, but his dad and brother were close behind him and called for help when they found his skiis lying in the snow, his footsteps leading over the ledge. The victim was located partially buried in the snow, but conscious, by Parks Canada visitor safety specialists.
“We were stunned to see him waving. It’s not what you expect when you see someone fall that far,” Statham says.
The man was transported to hospital with serious injuries, including a broken leg and broken back bones. Parks Canada does not know how he is doing now.
Just two days later, on Sunday Mar. 29, a different skier travelling on the Wapta Icefields in Banff accidentally walked onto a cornice and fell approximately 150 metres. It was another close call, but the individual survived with only minor injuries, Statham says.
“In the mountains, cornices are one of the biggest hazards there are,” Statham says. “A lot of people have been killed or hurt from falling through or having one fall on top of them on a hot day.”
As the weather warms, Statham is warning hikers and skiers to watch out for cornice ridges in the back country.
“In the next few months, the mountains will come apart, all the snow will fall down. We’re really into what we call cornice season, and people should be aware of that,” Statham says.
He’s also reminding people to abide by posted signage, adding the fence ignored by the skier last Friday was likely there precisely because of the unstable cornice.
“Pay attention to the fences. They mean something, they don’t put them there for fun, they put them up for a reason,” Statham says.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015