Kootenay ski trails closed after man killed by falling tree

A popular cross country ski area in the Kootenays has closed early for the season after a tree fell and killed a trail groomer.

72-year-old man was grooming Nancy Greene trails in February when tree fell and killed him

WorkSafe BC has ordered the Castlegar Nordic Ski Club to suspend grooming and recreation use on all of its trails until potential tree hazards have been removed. (Castlegar Nordic Ski Club)

One of the most popular cross country ski areas in the Kootenays has closed early for the season following the death of a trail groomer and concerns over dangerous trees.

The 72-year-old man was on a snowmobile grooming the Nancy Greene cross country ski trails between Castlegar and Grand Forks in early February when he was hit by a falling tree.

"It was a tragic accident," said Jim Guido, vice president of the Castlegar Nordic Ski Club.

"The fellow  was setting the trails for us .... and a tree that was beside the trail fell on him and it was a fatality."

Guido identified the man as Garth Johnson of Castlegar. 

"He was a 15 year employee with us and very well liked."

'Danger trees' to be cut down

Guido said WorkSafeBC investigated the death and found a number of 'danger trees' — standing dead or dying trees over three metres in height — along the Nancy Greene trails.

As a result, Guido said the club decided to close the popular ski area for the season so skiers aren't at risk.

"We have a legal responsibility to the people we invite to use our trails. It's an obligation we have and we take it seriously," he said.

"Any trees that are deemed a risk to the trails need to be cut down."

Guido said the club inspects the area annually, but the club plans to do a more detailed analysis of the recreation area and remove dangerous trees in the summer. 

He said it is the safest and most cost effective time to do such work.

In the meantime, skiers who bought a season pass at Nancy Greene are invited to ski for free at trails run by the Black Jack Ski Club, Nelson Nordic Ski Club and Kimberley Nordic Club.

With files from Daybreak South and Bob Keating.