Squamish man killed in Powder Mtn. slide

Backcountry users 'need to pay more attention': Sills

Though extensive efforts were made to revive a 44-year-old Squamish man who was buried in an avalanche south of Whistler on Tuesday (March 6), he did not survive.

The victim, who has been identified by community members as Dennis Leski, was snowmobiling in the Grizzly Lake area on Powder Mountain when he and another sledder triggered the Size 3 slide at about 3:30 p.m.

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The two snowmobilers went up the middle of a steep, snow-laden slope, turning before they reached the top and triggering the avalanche, said Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair of Whistler RCMP. One of the sledders turned right and escaped the slide, while the victim turned left and was buried.

The snowmobilers were highmarking, which is the practice of driving up steep slopes as high as possible before turning. The two were part of a group of five friends snowmobiling in the area, but three or four other sledders also arrived on the scene after the slide.

While search and rescue, ski patrol and avalanche dog teams were deployed, the victim's friends were able to locate him and dig him out from the foot of the slide in snow about a metre deep, LeClair said. He was wearing a transceiver, but it took the friends about 20 minutes to dig him out.

"He was unconscious, unresponsive, not breathing with no pulse," LeClair said in a press release.

The victim's friends performed CPR until search and rescue and ski patrol members arrive on scene at about 4:15 p.m. and took over. At about 4:55 p.m. a doctor and paramedic also arrived on scene and continued to work to revive Leski.

LeClair said after more than an hour of CPR, the victim was transferred by helicopter and ambulance to the Whistler Health Care Centre where he was pronounced dead.

LeClair said the investigation is ongoing and an autopsy will be performed. The "tragic incident highlights the dangers that exist in the backcountry," he said.

"People traveling in the backcountry must ensure that they exercise sound judgment when selecting their routes of travel and are properly trained and equipped for companion rescue."The Leski family is well known in the Squamish area, with a railway crossing that bears the family name.

Brad Sills of Whistler Search and Rescue, who was part of the team that responded to the slide, said there had been numerous natural avalanches in the popular Powder Mountain snowmobiling area on Tuesday.

"Outdoor recreationalists really need to pay more attention to the environment they're in. This is not a place that's very forgiving, as we saw today," Sills told The Question Tuesday night.

"I don't want to place blame on anybody, but Mother Nature gave all the signs early today that she wasn't in the mood to be played with."

Sills said he's continually working to educate people that they "have to pay more attention" in the backcountry.

Sills also noted that another local snowmobiler, Darren Proctor, was killed in an avalanche in the Grizzly Lake area in 2000. That slide was about 500 metres away from this week's avalanche, though the area isn't any more hazardous than other snowmobiling terrain, Sills added. It's a popular hill-climbing spot, however.

A backcountry skier was injured in a separate avalanche on Saturday (March 3) in the Vantage Peak area off the Duffey Lake Road near Pemberton. Three adults were skiing in the area when one of the group members triggered the avalanche at about noon, LeClair said. He was caught in the slide but not buried, and suffered head and shoulder injuries.

Though both Pemberton and Whistler search and rescue teams were deployed, the injured man and his friends were able to walk to the highway and were transported to the Pemberton Medical Clinic in a private vehicle, LeClair said.

Other recent search and rescue incidents in recent days include a 19-year-old skier who was long-line rescued after spending the night below the 7th Heaven area on Blackcomb last Wednesday (Feb. 29) and an injured skier being rescued by snowmobile north-east of Duffey Lake on Sunday (March 4).

Whistler Search and Rescue reported last week that serious rescues are on the rise.

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