Avalanche kills skier in Callaghan Valley

The 33-year-old man’s transceiver wasn’t sending a signal, creating challenges for rescuers

A 33-year-old Vancouver man was killed in an avalanche in the Callaghan Valley last Saturday (March 4).

He has been identified as Corey Lynam, an experienced backcountry skier and father of a young son.

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The avalanche airbag he was wearing was ripped off during the slide and his transceiver was stuck in search mode, which made the rescue effort more challenging, said Brad Sills, head of Whistler Search and Rescue (SAR). “The RCMP have reported that the subject was found with a transceiver on his person and that the transceiver was in the search mode,” he said. “We can’t speculate at this time why that was.”

RCMP contacted SAR around noon after receiving reports that members of the public were searching for a buried skier near Hanging Lake. Sills said when they arrived, around 14 people were part of the search. “They were quite well organized for being disparate groups,” he said.  

After realizing the man’s transceiver wasn’t sending out a signal, the team had to take a different approach. They focused on searching areas with the highest probability of survival first.

“Once we completed those, we were very, very fortunate having Whistler Blackcomb extend to us two dogs and two dog handlers. After spending probably more than three hours probing and beacon searching and dog searching, we moved to other less likely areas of survivability,” Sills said.

Around 4 p.m. a dog helped to locate Lynam’s body about 80 cm beneath the snow.

The avalanche was between a class two, which can bury or kill a person, and a class three, which can destroy a car, damage a truck or break trees. The avalanche rating for the area that day had been considerable, said public avalanche forecaster James Floyer.

“(Friday’s) storm was waning so there was a sense that the natural avalanche activity was less likely while human-triggered avalanches were quite likely,” he said.

Backcountry users should treat forecasts as “a starting point” to assessing the terrain, considering conditions can vary over mountain ranges, Floyer added. “For example, if you notice a forecast (with) 20 cm of new snow and you get 40 or 50, adjust accordingly for your local area,” he said.

When Sills woke up on Saturday morning, he was certain SAR would be called out, given the conditions. “I knew what I would be doing that afternoon simply because of the rain crust we had and the almost metre of cold snow that fell on it,” he said. “Then you add into it spring sun and it’s almost a perfect storm.”

His team attended two other scenes that day: one to extricate a snowmobiler who had a severe knee injury after another snowmobile ran into her and a second incident in which a snowmobiler dislocated their shoulder.

“I know it sounds like a broken record at times: it’s fun to be in the mountains, but you have to respect that you’re a long way from medical attention,” Sills said. “When things happen, if you’re counting on someone else to assist you, you need to be realistic about that expectation.”

The avalanche rating is expected to remain considerable in the alpine and at the treeline until Wednesday (March 7). For more visit avalanche.ca.

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