A 27-year-old snowboarder is dead after an incident on Blackcomb Mountain on Saturday (Nov. 26).
The man, who’s from abroad but lived in Whistler, had been snowboarding on a run near Arthur’s Choice, a gladed area on the mountain, with his girlfriend when they became separated, RCMP said, in a press release issued on Monday (Nov. 28).
The man’s girlfriend reported him missing to Blackcomb ski patrol and they started a search around 12:15 p.m.
Members of the public located the man unresponsive and in deep, unconsolidated snow, police said. “They pulled him out of the snow and began CPR,” according to the release.
Blackcomb ski patrol, paramedics and a mountain doctor tried to resuscitate him, but he was declared dead on the mountain. “Whistler Blackcomb (WB) would like to express its sincerest condolences to the deceased man’s friends, colleagues and family,” WB said in a release.
Whistler Mountain opened last Wednesday (Nov. 23) and Blackcomb Mountain opened on Thursday (Nov. 24). Snowfall continued to accumulate over opening weekend.
“Skiers and snowboarders are urged to exercise caution while recreating, particularly in this early part of the season, and be aware that hazards exist inside and outside the ski area boundary,” RCMP said.
The snowfall has been great for conditions, but also presents risks that skiers and snowboarders need to be aware of, said Kira Cailes, risk management and safety manager for WB.
“It’s definitely a lot of snow,” she said. “This is not the norm for us, but it’s not unheard of… The skiing is amazing and the quality of snow has been spectacular.
It’s been so wonderful for open and marked areas, but people need to be aware that despite the fact that it looks amazing off piste, they’re still facing early season conditions. Snow is not settled.”
Skiers and snowboarders need to be cautious of deep snow immersion and tree well danger. “If you’re going to ski and ride in trees ride with a partner,” Cailes said. “Keep them in visual or voice contact. Also, have a plan. ‘We’ll meet at this point in the run’ and re-group half way through. Then you can be alerted sooner if someone is missing.”
(Detailed safety information on tree wells and other hazards is available at whistlerblackcomb.com/mountain-info/mountain-safety.)
On any big snow day throughout the season, parents should also keep a particularly watchful eye on kids. The number one rule: always ski behind them because it can be difficult to climb back up hill to help in deep snow. Another tip is to ensure kids are always riding with a buddy if they’re on the mountain without parents.
“(Parents) know their kids’ skills, experience, knowledge of the hill, their personality and what type of risk taker they are,” Cailes added. “Make sure they have a plan and check in points.”
The snowboarder’s death was a sombre cap to the first week of the season, which had been hailed as the best in recent memory thanks to a few heavy and aptly-timed dumps of snow leading up to Whistler’s opening day.
Since then, the peaks have received over two metres of powder, on top of the current snow base of nearly the same, as measured at the Pig Alley Weather Station on Whistler Mountain. It’s the highest snow base recorded in November in the past six years, said WB public relations and communications manager Lauren Everest in a statement. “We couldn’t have asked for better timing with this snow,” she added, on Friday.
The high-quality conditions, particularly rare for this time of year, only heightened the excitement that preceded last Wednesday’s opening. A handful of Whistlerites even spent the night outside in order to get first dibs on the fresh tracks.
In Skier’s Plaza, WB teamed up with the North Face to host an opening day campout celebration, complete with a campfire, live music and a beer tent. But across the stroll was a less formal crew of campers.
A spirited group of Grade 9 and 10 Whistler Secondary School students arrived on Tuesday afternoon to set up their tents and camping chairs so they’d be first in line for the next day’s gondola, relying on a few boxes of pizza and Cards Against Humanity to keep them fuelled for the night ahead — as well as some equipment drop off/pick up help from supportive parents.
“It’s an adventure,” said Brycen Worden, 14. “You get to have the first turns on the mountain for the entire season, which is a pretty cool feeling. Plus we’re skipping school. It’s like the definition of dedication; what we’re doing out here.”
Note: An earlier version of this story said the deceased snowboarder was from the Czech Republic, according to the RCMP. According to friends that is incorrect.