British Columbia

B.C. backcountry ski guides sued over fatal 2016 avalanche

The widow of a 64-year-old Canmore man who died in an avalanche northwest of Golden, B.C., in 2016 has filed a lawsuit against the guides, the resort and others, nearly two years to the day after the fatal slide.

Douglas Churchill's widow, who was also caught in the avalanche, has filed a lawsuit

The widow of the victim of a fatal 2016 avalanche near Golden, B.C., has filed a lawsuit about the incident in B.C. Supreme Court. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

Almost exactly two years ago, a group of backcountry skiers was caught in an avalanche near Golden, B.C. Several people were injured and 64-year-old Douglas Churchill from Canmore was killed.

Now, his widow, Sheila Churchill — who was in the group — is suing the guides, the resort, an employee and the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG).

Churchill filed a notice of civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday. In it, she claims damages as an injured member of the 10-member group and also as the  representative of Douglas Churchill's Estate.

The lawsuit names ACMG-certified guide Nicholas Rapaich, Colin Smith, who was allegedly working as a so-called 'tail guide' during the avalanche, the resort Golden Alpine Holidays, Inc., and a resort employee, Cody Lank, who Churchill claims was with the group.

According to Churchill's claim, the 10-person group was on a week-long backcountry skiing trip when an avalanche on the slope known as Hogzilla caught the group and their guides. One skier was able to avoid it. Churchill claims five people were completely buried and five were partially buried by the snow.

CBC News reported at the time that Douglas Churchill was airlifted to Calgary in critical condition but died of his injuries.

Churchill claims she was partially buried and suffered significant injuries, including knee issues that continue today.

The statement of claim accuses Rapaich and Smith of unilaterally exercising their discretion and power over the clients in a way that caused Sheila Churchill's injuries and her husband's death.

Churchill claims the death and injuries were caused by negligence, criminal negligence, breaches of fiduciary duties and breaches of contract. In particular, she says the group was not informed of known avalanche predictions, the guides ignored the results of "approach-slope stability analysis," chose an improper descent route, and triggered the avalanche.

Churchill's claims have not been proven in court. None of the defendants has yet filed a statement of defence.

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