Although many people may have enjoyed some rest and relaxation over the Family Day long weekend, RCMP and search and rescue crews in the Sea to Sky region had a hectic, stressful time as they were deployed on numerous rescue missions.
Unstable conditions led to several avalanches, which swept away numerous individuals in their paths.
Sea to Sky RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Sascha Banks stated that they received several serious search and rescue calls over the weekend, with two of them resulting in fatalities in addition to numerous serious injuries.
"We have said this multiple times already this year, the snowpack in the backcountry of the Sea to Sky is unstable and is subject to considerable and high avalanche risks," Sgt. Banks stated in a news release. "This is relevant for close proximity and popular backcountry areas such as Blackcomb Glacier, to Garibaldi Provincial Park, and the Brandywine Bowl from January.”
Sgt. Banks also emphasized the importance of having “appropriate avalanche equipment, train how to use it, recognize risk, and have up to date beacons/transceivers and that you know how to use them”, and stated that all of these things helped to save lives in rescues from Garibaldi Provincial Park.
Sgt. Banks also reminded people to check Avalanche Canada for the latest updates.
"The calls speak for themselves...the backcountry in the Sea to Sky is not stable at the moment,” Sgt. Banks stated. “ It’s time to wait and postpone your touring trip here for another time. This is hard on all of us: search teams, bystanders, police, and most importantly the loved ones of those who have died and been injured."
In the late morning on February 11, an avalanche swept up two backcountry skiers in Garibaldi Provincial Park in the Super Couloir Area on Mamquam Mountain.
One skier was injured and both required extraction.
Due to high winds, the RCAF 442 Squadron and the Cormorant were called in and retrieved the two males.
Around 11:30 p.m. on the same day, Squamish RCMP received notification that a backcountry skier who was solo touring in the Elfin Lakes area was overdue.
After officers located his vehicle in the parking lot leading to the Upper Elfin Lakes Trail, they contacted Squamish Search and Rescue to help locate the individual.
Search and rescue crews from Squamish, Lions Bay, Whistler, Pemberton, and North Shore Rescue were all involved in the search, which continued until he was located on February 12 on upper Mamquam Road. He was treated for extensive exposure.
Then around 3:20 p.m. on February 12, Whistler RCMP received notification about an avalanche in the Poop Chutes off Blackcomb Glacier that swept away several skiers.
Three skiers were located: one person was uninjured, another person was injured, and a third was pronounced deceased by a doctor.
In a second smaller avalanche that occurred in the Phalanx near the Spierhead Glacier, a skier sustained serious injuries and was flown by air ambulance to hospital.
B.C. RCMP stated that Whistler RCMP received notification around 2 p.m. on February 13 about several people caught in an avalanche in the Brandywine Bowl, and that one person remained missing.
Investigators believe that a group of three people were caught in an initial avalanche but while they were trying to get out of the area, they became swept up in a second avalanche.
Those in the area immediately began to search for the missing snowboarder as Whistler RCMP and Whistler Search and Rescue headed to the Callaghan Valley.
About 45 minutes later, the 45-year-old male from the Sea to Sky region was located. Unfortunately, he died from his injuries.
Whistler RCMP and B.C. Coroners Service is continuing the investigation into this incident.
North Shore Rescue (NSR) stated that two hikers wound up in an area west of the Grouse Grind on February 13 and became stuck in steep terrain in ice and snow.
NSR members had to rappel down to their location, provide them with harnesses, and then belay them back up to a safer location where they could be walked down using hand lines.
Although the pair were able to call 911, NSR was unable to call them back as they didn’t have a cell phone plan and one of their two phones had a dead battery.