Canadian Mountain Guides Sued by Avalanche Victim’s Widow

Steven Agar | | AvalancheAvalancheIndustry NewsIndustry News
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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. Credit:

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

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.

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A self-guided group triggered an avalanche in the Esplanade mountain range north of Golden, BC, Feb. 21, 2016. Credit: Golden and District Search and Rescue

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.

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 defense.

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3 thoughts on “Canadian Mountain Guides Sued by Avalanche Victim’s Widow

  1. Here is the realty of guided backcountry skiing and snowboarding, it’s incredibly dangerous and high or low avalanche conditions, they will go . If they cancel they lose money period ! Maybe it’s the dirty secret of the guided access backcountry industry. But they will go no matter how bad the conditions are, maybe heliskiing is a little more affected by weather because they can’t fly in really bad weather, but snowcat operations will go no matter how bad the avalanche rating is . It’s lost revenue . I have done both , the gnarliest weather in the highest avalanche conditions. Deal with it, go with the best company and the most experienced guides. Learn how to use your beacon , take an avalanche skills course , speak up if something seems wrong or your not comfortable with anything the guides are doing. Better to be the ashole than be dead . It will always snow another day .

  2. It sucks, but If guides took them out on a dangerous slope in high act conditions though it’s gotta be on the professionals to know better. This is definitely different thang someone inbounds who sues a ski resort.

  3. Why can’t people take personal responsibility for their own actions and not blame the people who are there to help ? Your in the backcountry skiing in some of the most dangerous and difficult conditions and things go wrong, this lawsuit will have a very negative impact on the business of guiding and may very well put the company out of business. It will make a very expensive activity even more expensive and less accessible to the adventurous people wanting to experience the backcountry .

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