Calgary parents reflect on ski tragedy at Glacier National Park

The first day of February marks 10 years to the day when seven students on a ski trip at Glacier National Park, B.C., died in an avalanche.

10 years ago, 7 teenagers died while on a ski trip

Avalanche death anniversary

9 years ago
Ten years ago today, seven students from Strathcona-Tweedsmuir died while on a ski trip at Glacier National Park, B.C. 2:42

The first day of February marks 10 years to the day when seven students on a ski trip at Glacier National Park, B.C., died in an avalanche.

The one-kilometre long avalanche came down on a party from the Strathcona-Tweedsmuir private school near Calgary.

There were two teachers and an adult chaperone.

Seven of the teenagers were killed.

Peter and Judith Aratos' 15-year-old son Daniel was one of the students who died.

"I actually don't believe it's been 10 years. It feels fresh," Peter said.

"Seven funerals ... you know, the whole city was traumatized," Judith said. "Everybody in that moment in time felt they had lost a child."

Along with the indescribable grief, the Aratos had questions.

"What was the chain of casualty that led our children to being in what turned out to be the most avalanche prone area of Canada?" said Judith.

The Aratos' concerns were echoed in an independent review commissioned by the school.

Now, the outdoor education program at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir operates differently.

Avalanche-prone areas are now off limits, staff get more training and parents get more information.

Bruce Hendricks, director of outdoor education at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, says the training is helpful.

"It's more comprehensive, and even if you're somebody who knows nothing about the outdoors, you would still have a pretty decent idea of what you were going to do or what your child is going to do," he said.

Bill Jones, head of Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, says the school is strict when it comes to making decisions.

"We take a very hard look at current conditions, for example, we don't say, 'Well, we've done that trip for 20 years in a row now, so we must be good to go.'"

Seeing those changes has helped the Aratos through their loss.

"The mental exercise of learning what happened and why, understanding it and trying to push for change, was also for our own mental health, because you just don't want to curl up and be a victim of what happened -- you want to bring about something from it."

The Aratos hope the 10 years hasn’t made people more complacent about back country safety, or forgetting the terrible lessons learned.

On Friday, students at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir will take a moment to remember at a ceremony that will mark the tragedy.

Record number of deaths

In the winter of 2002/2003, a total of 29 people died in avalanches in the Canadian backcountry, which marks the most avalanche fatalities in a single season in Canada.

It prompted Parks Canada to overhaul its avalanche safety policies.