British Columbia

2 snowboarders dead after avalanche near remote northern B.C. park

Two men from Alaska have died in an avalanche while snowboarding near the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in northwestern British Columbia. A third man survived the avalanche.

Both victims men in their early 20s from Haines, Alaska, B.C. Coroners Service says

An avalanche near Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in the far northwestern corner of B.C. has killed two men from Alaska. (CBC)

A man who came across an avalanche survivor near Haines Summit in B.C. says he tried to help two other men who were buried in the snow but it was too late. 

The B.C. Coroners Service said two men in their early 20s from Haines, Alaska, died Monday in the avalanche near the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in northwestern British Columbia.

Daniel Dreiseitl of Whitehorse said he was heading home from a day of skiing when he noticed a man waving his hands about 200 metres off the road.

"We clearly saw that an avalanche was triggered, that there was a pile of snow beneath the hill and one man trying to dig in the snow," he said. "When we looked in those holes we saw two bodies."

Haines Summit B.C. in the area where an avalanche claimed the lives of two snowboarders from Alaska on Dec. 30, 2019. (Daniel Dreiseitl)

"We checked the pulse of one of the bodies and the temperature and it was already cold and no pulse at all."

Dreiseitl said the survivor told him the avalanche came down two hours earlier after he and his two friends had hiked up the hill with the intent of snowboarding down. 

Cracks in the snow

"He mentioned that he saw some cracks in the snow but they didn't pay attention to that. Then when they were standing and chatting and looking around, it was at that time that they triggered the avalanche," said Dreiseitl.

"He said when it was happening and they were sliding down, he was trying to be above the snow and that's how he saved his life because when they landed, his head was above the snow so he was able to dig himself out."

"When I saw his other buddies their heads were downward and their legs up and they were not able to move. They were one metre under the snow," said Dreiseitl.

The three men caught in the avalanche were friends, all from Haines, Alaska. 

A statement posted by the Haines Volunteer Fire Department said the RCMP received an emergency locator SOS early Monday afternoon and organized a rescue operation and helicopter go to the scene.  

"Shortly after arrival, the Canadian authorities reported they had one individual alive and in their care and sadly confirmed there were two deceased," the statement said.

"The Canadian authorities will make arrangements to transport the deceased back home to the United States."

The avalanche happened near a remote recreational area known locally as Haines Summit, located in the far northwestern part of B.C. that extends between Alaska and Yukon. 

According to James Minifie, Avalanche Canada's Yukon spokesman,​​​ the avalanche risk in the area had been increasing since Christmas Eve. 

"We've had a lot of snow and wind and temperatures have come up to toward zero on multiple occasions," he said. "So all these things combined have caused a spike in avalanche danger."

First avalanche fatalities of winter

These are the first avalanche fatalities of this winter season in Canada. On average, avalanches claim the lives of 11 people every year in Canada, with about 80 per cent of the deaths occurring in B.C.

Avalanche danger ratings are high in many parts of B.C., but Avalanche Canada does not post a rating specifically for Haines Summit or for the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park area, because the remote location makes it difficult to collect necessary data.

Minifie said in the absence of data and an official avalanche warning, people who use the Haines Summit area for recreation are encouraged to share information on the Avalanche Canada website.

They're also advised to exercise an abundance of caution when heading into the mountains.

"Typically northerners are very good at that. But when it comes down to it, our uncertainty is very high in places where we don't have a lot of information," he said. 

"When we're experiencing storm cycles and the avalanche danger is spiking, we need to really keep ourselves to conservative terrain — low angle, simple terrain — and keep our exposure to an absolute minimum."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included the first name of the survivor. His name was removed after CBC learned he is a minor.

With files from Meghan Roberts

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