British Columbia

A trio of skiers trekking out of bounds had a watcher they didn't know about

An experienced back-country skier and Kamloops search and rescue volunteer is warning backcountry skiers to stay in bounds if they lack avalanche safety gear or training.

Tempted to ski out of bounds? Check your gear and training first, warns Avalanche Canada

Jeremy Markel poses during a hike up Needle Peak in the Coquihalla Summit Recreation area east of Yale. The 48-year-old started skiing as a teen and ski-touring in more dangerous terrain 10 years ago. (Jeremy Markel)

Experienced backcountry skier Jeremy Markel watched three people risk their lives on Sunday, unaware of their watcher.

The off-duty Kamloops Search and Rescue volunteer is warning out-of-bounds skiers to stay behind the safety markers if they lack gear and avalanche-risk training after watching a trio trek into potential trouble, seemingly oblivious to the dangers on the slopes near Sun Peaks Resort.

Markel said he was skiing when he saw a man followed by a woman and a young girl ahead of him on the track. He said the trio didn't appear to have the gear or training to stay safe on the upper slopes of Mount Tod.

Markel said he did not approach or talk to the strangers as people often get angry when offered safety advice, but their lack of preparation left him fearing for their lives, despite the moderate avalanche conditions.

Ski tracks head out of bounds into the powdered slopes of Mount Tod on Dec. 29. (Jeremy Markel)

"I don't want to come across as being grim but the thought of ... having to find their bodies after they're buried in an avalanche makes me feel ill. I never want to experience having to locate and dig up a dead child because that child's parents were negligent," he wrote in a post on Facebook.

Avalanche Canada has long campaigned to educate people about the safest ways to enjoy B.C.'s stunning wild slopes. In Canada the average number of people who die in avalanches has fallen to a 20-year low of 11, according to the organization.

This is notable because of the increasing number of people headed out of bounds, said James Floyer, forecasting program supervisor for Avalanche Canada.

But Floyer said more education is always needed.

In B.C. winter deaths in the backcountry totalled more than 200 in the past nine years. Almost half of those fatalities were due to avalanches, according to the BC Coroners Service.

Markel has more than 30 years' experience skiing, so when he headed up the Sun Peaks chairlift, then past the safety markers, he packed a probe, shovel and transceiver.

"The woman and the 10-12 old girl had no packs, no beacons, and obviously, no clue they were travelling in avalanche terrain. To further compound the situation, the man was often far ahead and out of both eyesight and hearing of the other two. The woman and the girl could have been buried and he wouldn't have known until they didn't show up who knows how many minutes later."

Tempting Mount Tod vistas beckon skiers, but avalanche risks are real and need to be heeded, says an experienced ski enthusiast and search and rescue volunteer. (Jeremy Markel)

Markel, who often "crosses the out of bounds rope", said if an avalanche hit it is crucial to get to a person buried within minutes and dig them out.

Markel said he kept watch hoping nothing would go awry as the place they were skiing did not have ski patrols or avalanche mitigation. That's why he said his trio watched for each other and tested the snowpack for trouble signs.

"We accept some risks but we do our best to mitigate it during the day," he said.

"I very much love my wife and I very much want to go home to her every day."

Floyer, an avalanche forecaster in Revelstoke, said that out-of-bounders need to carry avalanche essentials — a transceiver, a probe and a shovel.

"It's really hard to be 100 per cent certain that there's no avalanche hazard on steep slopes," he said.

"When you see tracks that lead off — people may have ducked through the ropes. It may be tempting to follow those," he said.

But people need both gear and the appropriate skills, he said.

Markel's efforts to warn the trio were criticized by some who said he should also ski within safer zones.

For others, including Greg van Osch, the post triggered memories of past avalanches that killed people they knew.

"[It] took four hours to find him as he had no [transceiver] and I never want to repeat digging [out] a body again," he said.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?