Backcountry Skier Killed by Avalanche Triggered by Collapsing Cornice

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Parks Canada, avalanche, cornice,
The avalanche was triggered by a falling cornice. Credit: Parks Canada

A 28-year-old woman was killed after an avalanche carried her 1,000-feet down a steep mountain face on Mount des Poulis in Yoho National Park, AB, last week.

Five people were boot-hiking up a ridge near the summit of 10,387-foot Mount des Poilus last Wednesday, April 13th. The woman was ahead of the group when a cornice, estimated to be between 200-260-feet wide, collapsed and triggered a class 3 avalanche.

Parks Canada confirmed the woman was not buried by the avalanche but was killed by trauma from the fall.

“The first person in line got pulled down when the cornice collapsed, and she ended up falling about 300 meters (1,000-feet). The cornice triggered an avalanche, but the person was not buried, and died from trauma from the fall.”

– Brian Webster, visitor safety manager for Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks

Anatomy of a cornice

The rest of her party raised the alarm at 11:42 am with an InReach SOS activation. Rescue crews responded quickly and found the woman at the bottom of the slope on top of the avalanche debris.

After approaching on skis, a party of five was ascending the SE ridge of Mt Des Poilus on foot. One person was ahead of the group at the summit when a cornice collapsed and triggered an avalanche on the steep slope below. The person fell with the cornice, was carried down the NE face, and was partially buried in the cornice and avalanche debris on the glacier below.

– Avalanche Canada

The group of five skiers was on a day trip to Mount des Poulis, about 22-miles northwest of Lake Louise, and were well equipped with avalanche gear, satellite communication device, and radio

Cornices can be dangerous when traveling in the mountains, particularly during spring when they are bigger and the warmer temperatures make them more prone to collapse.

The fatality is the sixth avalanche-related death in Canada this winter and the 21st in North America.

Yoho national park, alberta, canada
Yoho National Park, AB

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