Former Winnipegger Ben Peterson is being dubbed a hero after helping rescue two men from an avalanche in Banff, Alta.
It was a beautiful, sunny day with a fresh layer of powder from weekend snowfall when Peterson and his friend Beau Evans decided to hit the trails on April 1.
Peterson said conditions were perfect for snowboarding and the pair were eager to start snowboarding when an avalanche suddenly hit.
"I can never forget the sight of all that snow flying off that cliff and all the rocks and boulders that were tomahawking like a 35 to 40 foot cliff right in front of you," said Peterson. "[It] kind of sounded comparable to a waterfall."
Peterson and Evans didn’t see anyone get caught in the avalanche, but a snowboarder named Andrew approached the pair to let them know there was two people swept away in the snowslide.
The group then snowboarded down to find them.
Rescuers used transmitters to find 2 people
Peterson used a transmitter all skiers and snowboarders carry in a mandatory avalanche pack to track down the first person who was buried.
"We used our beacon to hone in on where his location was, and you pull out a probe – kind of like a tent pole – then you probe down,” said Peterson.
The group found him about a metre below the surface.
“We got our shovels and started clearing the snow away from him," said Peterson. "He was moaning in pain; he wasn’t very responsive to any questions we were asking at first.”
The group then turned on their beacons again to search for the second person buried by the avalanche. They found him just under a metre beneath the surface.
"He was unconscious and bleeding heavily, face down," said Peterson.
Once the snow was cleared, the group covered him with their jackets. They decided not to move him in case his spine had been injured.
Luckily, Peterson had cell phone reception and called 911, and a helicopter was dispatched to the crew’s location.
Time critical in rescue, man says
The whole ordeal lasted just 15 minutes and both men survived.
"You pretty much do whatever you can in that situation to get these guys out," said Peterson. "You just gotta go. You know you can’t really wait around, because if someone’s underneath, time is essential. You kind of just snap into action."
Peterson’s background in avalanche rescue training paired with his own brushes with smaller slides in Nelson, B.C. made the difference.
"It was an amazing group effort from a random group of strangers. And because of that these guys are going to be OK," he said.
But the 28 year old is reluctant to be called a hero.
"We were just sort of there, and it's just something you do when that situation happens," he said. "Some people can call me a hero, but I was just in the right place at the [right] time."
And while Peterson said he'll be more cautious in the future, he's already been back out snowboarding.
"I’ve been riding back country for about 10 years now, and it's my favourite thing to do. It's one of the reasons I live out here," he said.