British Columbia

B.C. man survived avalanche in the Kootenays by triggering his airbag at just the right time

Blaine Penner, 37, wasn't injured after a 600-metre fall during the avalanche, but says he could easily have died without his safety gear.

Blaine Penner was caught in a snowslide after stepping on a snow cornice that collapsed

Blaine Penner, front, took a selfie with his snowmobiling buddy Nathan Roberts on Feb. 5, moments before he started an avalanche by stepping onto a snow cornice that fell away beneath him. (Blaine Penner)

Blaine Penner survived an avalanche on a southeastern B.C. slope more than a week ago thanks to being able to use his lifesaving equipment during his fall.

At around 8 a.m. MT on Feb. 5, the 37-year-old snowmobiler fell more than 600 metres from a cliff on the Kootenays' Norns Range after stepping off his sled onto a snow cornice that collapsed, triggering the slide.

"The earth fell out from beneath me," Penner told Sarah Penton, the host of CBC's Radio West. "[It] was non-stop. It was a continuous ride."

Penner says when he was tumbling down the mountain, he briefly thought he would die and accepted the fate. 

But fortunately for Penner, he still had his helmet on and was able to pull his avalanche airbag activation handle. 

Blaine Penner took this photo after he stopped tumbling down the slope along with the avalanche. The circled area is where the snow cornice collapsed. (Blaine Penner)

"I came out of it [the freefall] unscathed," Penner said. "If I had done one thing differently, I'd be dead."

Penner says he also feels grateful that his radio was fully charged so that he could tell his backcountry adventure partner Nathan Roberts that everything was fine.

Roberts and volunteers in the Norns Range area called the Castlegar Search and Rescue for help, but the uninjured Penner was able to climb back to the top before the search professionals arrived. 

Penner's incident happened just a week before a snowboarder and a skier were killed in separate backcountry avalanches near Whistler, B.C. 

Penner also lost a friend to a snowslide several years ago.

He said he tried to keep his cool when reaching the top of the slope to meet up with friends who were waiting for him.

"I hugged my friends," he said. "There's no time to get emotional over this. Let's get off this mountain already."

The B.C. Search and Rescue Association reports calls for help so far this season have increased 48 per cent compared to the same time last year, with milder weather and the COVID-19 pandemic pushing more people into the backcountry.

Tap the link below to hear Blaine Penner's interview on Radio West:

Castlegar resident, Blaine Penner, was in an avalanche on Feb 5th and survived to tell the tale 17:44

With files from Radio West and Tom Popyk

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