I lived in Kelowna for about 20 years, and every season Vern (at least until he left for Vancouver) and I used to get a season’s pass.   We were up at least once a week, usually Sunday, following a night of heavy partying - at least on my part.  Following high school, I even did a stint as a volunteer for the Canadian Ski Patrol so I have some understanding for what the patrollers are facing right now.

Once, years ago, I was skiing in the tree chutes on the left hand side of the Cliff (near the Saddle).  In those days, there was no chair, and not even the poma lifts that came and went over the years (courtesy of another avalance).  The snow was very deep and had a very slight crust to it that was fairly easy to break through. 

The Tree Chutes are quite steep, but as they are heavily treed, I never worried much about avalanches in there.  However, on that day, I got a healthy reminder of just how powerful snow can be.

I was fairly near the bottom of one of the chutes, and I cut across an open spot to look for another line.  It was quite steep, and while cutting across, the snow broke away below me and slid.  I lost my balance and fell, sliding down on top of a very modest ‘avalanche’.  The snow above my cut line then broke free and slide down on top of me. 

It all happened in slow motion, and the scale was really modest, nothing like the big one over the weekend at Big White.   However, sliding on my back, face up, head downwards towards the bottom of the hill, I was able to watch as the snow slide with me, then started to cover me as I came to a stop at the bottom of the chute.

The snow covered me up to my face and then stopped.  I couldn’t believe the weight of the snow.  The snow compacts in an avalance, and what might have been light and fluffy originally was now heavy and dencely packed.  I was not covered very deep, but my skis were still attached, and it took me what seemed like an hour to free myself.  If I had not been able to breathe while freeing myself, I don’t think I would have survived.

Anybody else ever have an experience with an avalanche?

215 Comments »