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Avalanches prove deadly

It was a deadly weekend in the mountains for some powder hunters, after a heavy storm system left an unstable snowpack.

Separate incidents left multiple people dead in the backcountry.

A Bellingham man was killed and another was airlifted to hospital Sunday on Mount Herman, near the Mount Baker ski area in Washington, after an avalanche was triggered.

The body of Mark Panthen, 36, was recovered from the mountain Monday afternoon.

Additionally, a snowmobiler was killed in an avalanche in Evanoff Provincial Park, 120 kilometres east of Prince George, Saturday morning.

Angelo Kenneth Carpino, 41, is the first fatality from an avalanche in Canada this season, according to Tom Riley, avalanche forecaster with Avalanche Canada.

“Even one is one too many,” Riley said.

Police said the group of five snowmobilers was experienced in the backcountry and well prepared for the conditions. Carpino’s friends were able to dig him out of the avalanche shortly after he was buried, but were unable to resuscitate him.

The other four in the group escaped unharmed.

The author spent the last week in the backcountry in Wells Gray Provincial Park and witnessed first-hand the deteriorating avalanche conditions.

As storms dumped 15 to 20 centimetres of snow on a buried weak layer, the size of potential avalanches increased throughout the week.

“Most of the avalanche forecast regions have had this same type of problem,” said Riley. “It’s a widespread buried weak layer that formed when we had that clear weather at the beginning of the year.”

Depending on the specific area, a slab as deep as one metre sits upon this weak layer, and has been triggered naturally and by backcountry users.

Because of this, Avalanche Canada issued a public warning to backcountry users on Friday. 

“People need to continue to be careful, pick low-angle terrain, without overhead hazards,” Riley said. “It’s not the time to be going out and look for big objectives.”

In addition to the Prince George and Washington fatalities, two skiers were killed in a large avalanche just outside the ski boundary at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming, Sunday.

An experienced backcountry skier was killed in an avalanche outside of Salt Lake City last Thursday as well. The victim had proper safety equipment and deployed an avalanche air bag when the slide first took him.

“The snowpack doesn’t know that you’re an expert,” Mark Staples, director of the Utah Avalanche Center, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It’s an equal opportunity killer.”

Riley said another storm is expected to bring snow to the South Columbia region Wednesday night, along with strong winds and warming temperatures.

“The avalanche danger will go up a little bit,” he said. “That will build a new wind slab as well as the persistent weak layer that we’re already concerned about, so we expect conditions to continue to be touchy.”

Eight people died in avalanches in Canada last year.

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