Backcountry Skier dies on Mount Seymour

Please see updates at the end of this article.

A week from my last post on his pattern of accidents, and there’s another accident, this time fatal.

Details are sketchy, but the media are reporting that the individual was snowshoeing (see update below), and that they fell at the first pump peak of Mount Seymour near noon. At last check, North Shore Rescue is sill attempting to recover the body, but are being hampered by low clouds.

Last week I mentioned how the weather throughout the week was going to be fairly good, and icy conditions were going to continue. There was more rain later in the week, followed by a snort spell of clear weather. I’ve not been up Mount Seymour since, but it’s still below zero at night, and above zero in the days. If the victim was on a north facing slope, the icy crust could easily have been an inch thick – I have seen this myself on many occasions, and ice would have been persistent all over the mountain.

Any readers who have more recent info please comment.

A commenter brought this up last week: given that all of the local hills advertise and rent snowshoe equipment, and in at least one case an accident victim who fell to his death was reported to have been wearing rented snowshoes, it would be a good idea for the ski hills or BC Parks to post warnings when there is a thick ice crust. Currently BC Parks posts info on the current avalanche bulletin, it would be easy to add to this.

A thick ice crust is a reportable event in avalanche science, since the crust has an effect on moisture transport through the snowpack, and subsequent snowfalls may or may not bond well to the surface. The current avalanche bulletin often makes note of crusts, and any readers can take this into account whi9le planning a trip. It would be fairly simple to add a warning on widespread and very thick crusts to the board.

In my post on avalanche accidents I noted that snowshoers don’t seem to be killed by avalanches, but they are injured and killed in falls. Please take the time to observe the conditions. On the crowded trails of the North Shore don’t follow the crowd and surmise that things are safe because everyone else is heading to a certain destination, take some time to evaluate the conditions, your equipment, and your abilities and make a wise choice.

UPDATE: current avalanche bulletin mentions ice crust.

The current avalanche bulletin notes a 10-15 cm icy crust on the surface. This is the warning sign for snow crust-related falls.

UPDATE 2: Backcountry Skier, not snowshoer

As I mentioned in my leading paragraph, you can’t believe the media – the report has changed to indicate that it’s a backcountry skier that fell to his death this afternoon.

While my initial article on the snow-crust related falls focuses on snowshoes, and the problems with their use, as I wrote in the original article the problem is not confined to snowshoes alone. It’s clear from that article and this incident that that a 10-15cm think ice crust is a hazard to all backcountry travelers, not just snowshoers.

UPDATE 3:

Talking to my friends on North Shore Rescue, I found out that the skier was traversing the south face of the First Pump Peak. He was equipped with skis, ski crampons, and had his skins on. He slid about 100m down a steep icy slope, and hit a tree which stopped his fall. He sustains severe injuries to his head and chest.

I’ve heard estimates from 5 cm to 15 cm of ice crust on the top of Mount Seymour. Snow forecast for today will most likely bond poorly with the ice surface.

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9 comments on “Backcountry Skier dies on Mount Seymour
  1. gatier says:

    Hi! From my estimate, the 1st pump face is no more than 60m high and Tom slid no more than 40m. What I would like to know is, if his ski-crampons were found in ok shape, or there was something broken?

  2. gatier says:

    This was an really sad accident. I mostly hike up with my skis in the hands or on the back pack. I believe he was about half way up when it happened. But 20-30 meters is enough to gain a high speed on the icy/steep slope.
    I am so sorry for his wife, son and family.
    Rescue was too slow though.

  3. I don't have those answers.

    I was thinking the same thing as you about the height of the face, however, if you consider a 50m climbing rope, I think that it is close to 100m.

    I have not used ski crampons very much. My insight is this — that area is quite wind blasted, and most years there is bare rock, and some very thin snow. It would have been easy to strike a rock, a root, or even just to fail to penetrate the ice. This could happen on a kick turn.

    Once slipping, it would be impossible to re-gain traction.

    I'm sorry to hear you knew him.

  4. gatier says:

    I didn't say anything about SAR. I said rescue was too slow. I know SAR were not the only ones helping there…

  5. Anonymous says:

    gatier, perhaps you could be more specific in your opinion. Who was too slow? Without being more specific your post appears ignorant.

  6. Gaiter, I was not involved in this rescue, so I can't speak to any particulars. From reading this blog though you will see that SAR can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to get to someone.

    From what I understand, they could not fly because of low cloud — and note that the helicopters are not dedicated SAR machine but rather contracted through a company at YVR. Unlike firefighters, we're not sitting at the firehall waiting for a call to come in.

  7. gatier says:

    Who is this anonymous?
    I was just surprised passing by ski patrol and 2 rangers waiting for… I don't know what. I came to the accident as a first person that day. How is that possible?
    I don't want to criticize anybody, just curious.

  8. Thanks for the comments gaiter.

  9. gatier says:

    Thanks for listening Mr. Coyle.

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