British Columbia

Snowboarder killed in Whistler-area avalanche was trying to get to safety, mother says

David Henkel was trying to lead his girlfriend out of the Brandywine Bowl Saturday afternoon when he was swept away, according to his mother.

David Henkel, 45, was swept away in the Brandywine Bowl on Saturday afternoon

David Henkel in a photo taken a week before he died in an avalanche. Henkel, 45, was an expert snowboarder and rock climber. (submitted by Brian Hockenstein)

David Henkel was worried about snow stability and was trying to lead his girlfriend to safety when he was killed in an avalanche Saturday afternoon in the Brandywine Bowl south of Whistler, B.C., according to his mother.

Leslie Newton said her son, a resident of Whistler for 25 years, was avalanche trained and an expert snowboarder. 

"[His girlfriend] ended up getting caught in a small avalanche which knocked her over. He dug her out and said, 'we have to get out of here.' They started heading down the mountain and the rest of the mountain let go and got him and missed her," said Newton, speaking from her home in Omaha, Neb. 

Henkel, 45, was one of a number of people caught in the avalanche, but the only one to perish. A day earlier, a skier was killed and two others injured in two separate avalanches near Whistler. 

Newton said Henkel was a generous and kind soul who sought a lifestyle unencumbered by everyday concerns.

"He was so driven to be out in nature and to be happy and not worry about typical things that other people worry about," she said. "He didn't want a mortgage, he didn't want stuff that would tie him down. He was really a minimalist." 

Avalanche Canada spokesperson Ilya Storm said recent weather has made conditions in the Sea to Sky corridor "tricky."

"It's an unusual situation in that all this cold air came with a north and east wind. And that picked up snow and redeposited in unusual areas ... and built wind slabs on west and south facing slopes, which is not all that typical," he said.

Dave Henkel is shown with his dog Shilo. (submitted by Leslie Newton)

Friend Brian Hockenstein spent time with Henkel in the backcountry a week before the avalanche.

"Dave was as gnarly and as crazy as anyone you'd ever meet, whether it was rock climbing and snowboarding — but he was calculated and very safe and we turned to him for safety," said Hockenstein. 

"I sent him these photos ... and he sent back [a text] that said, 'Nice hanging out in rad places with you. I feel like sometimes the hang is better than the shredding,'" said Hockenstein. 

"It's just so beautiful he said that."  

Newton said her son often reassured his mother and sister that he was living his best life.

"He'd say, Mom, if I die up in the mountains rock climbing or snowboarding, I'd be dying doing something I love and that makes me happy," said Newton.

Because of the unique conditions in the Whistler area, Storm advises people heading into the backcountry to be more cautious than the avalanche rating might suggest.

"It's not what people who recreate in the mountains are used to seeing, so people need to go out with a little bit of a different mindset ... and be conservative in their terrain choices," he said.

with files from Briar Stewart

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