Tragedy

DEATH IN THE BACKCOUNTRY

Disaster strikes a group of highly experienced skiers in British Columbia

JOHN INTINI February 3 2003
Tragedy

DEATH IN THE BACKCOUNTRY

Disaster strikes a group of highly experienced skiers in British Columbia

JOHN INTINI February 3 2003

DEATH IN THE BACKCOUNTRY

Tragedy

JOHN INTINI

Disaster strikes a group of highly experienced skiers in British Columbia

JOHN SEIBERT remembers hearing a loud crack, but by then it was too late. A powerful avalanche was already crashing down on the geophysicist from Wasilla, Alaska, and 12 other highly experienced backcountry skiers on B.C.’s Durrand Glacier on the morning of Jan. 20. “It was like swimming down the roughest river I’ve ever been in, trying to keep my head above water,” says Seibert, 53. “I came to rest with my head and left hand exposed. The remainder of my body was locked in concrete-hard snow.” Seibert dug for 20 minutes with a small shovel he had with him in his pack, before being helped out of his icy tomb by one of the group’s skiers who

was not caught in the deadly disaster.

Seven others were not so lucky. Even though all were equipped with the latest digital location beacons, shovels and avalanche probes, other skiers and the rescue team, which arrived about 30 minutes after the avalanche, could not reach them in time. Some of those who perished were carried 100 m by the pounding snow, and were found four metres below the surface. Among the dead was U.S.-born Craig Kelly, 36, a former world champion Snowboarder who is considered one of the fathers of the sport. He was one of the trip’s guides.

The group was on the third day of a sevenday adventure tour run by Selkirk Mountain

Experience Skiing of Revelstoke, B.C., about 50 km southwest of Durrand Glacier. Just before the tragedy, the 21 skiers had stopped for a snack and conducted a snowpack analysis before beginning their descent of the mountain’s 35-degree slope in two groups. “I saw nothing to indicate any more than a minimal avalanche danger,” says Seibert, a 35-year veteran of backcountry skiing. One group was just above a fracture line that caused the avalanche—raising suspicions they may have precipitated the tragedy. But investigators determined human error was not to blame. Some of the skiers remained on the slopes in the days after the tragedy. HI