Accessibility links

Avalanche Kills 7 in Canada - 2003-01-22

The deadliest avalanche to hit Canada in the past 12 years has claimed the life of a former world champion snowboarder. The Monday slide occurred without warning, killing seven victims under a mass of snow.

Rescue workers are starting to provide further details about the avalanche, which happened on the remote Durrand Glacier, near Revelstoke, in Eastern British Columbia. One of the seven victims is 36 year-old Craig Kelly, who won seven world snowboarding championship titles and is considered one of the founding pioneers of the sport. He was killed, along with three other Canadian residents and skiers from the United States. They range from 25-50 years of age.

John Seibert, a 53 year-old geophysicist from Wasilla, Alaska, is one of the skiers who were buried under the snow. He managed to survive. He says that there was absolutely no indication anything would go wrong. "From my 35 years of experience in the backcountry, I saw nothing in the snow pack to indicate to me anymore than a minimal avalanche danger," he says. "At about 11 am, I was third in line in the second group; I felt the snow settle and heard a loud crack. A few seconds later the moving snow swept me off my skies and I started down the slope. I came to rest with my head and left hand exposed. The remainder of my body was locked in concrete-hard snow." Mr. Seibert says that he managed to wave a ski pole to attract attention of rescuers. It took 20 minutes to dig him out.

All of the backcountry skiers were wearing special homing beacons that allowed rescue workers to find them. Along with two police investigators, Mr. Seibert and several other skiers were trapped in a mountain chalet Monday night, because of to bad weather.

The veteran wilderness athlete says that several of the adventurers remain in the chalet and even went skiing Tuesday morning. When asked by reporters, he says that he will not give up skiing in remote wilderness, despite the dangers. "I think the risk is worth the reward. I've skied for 35 years and this is the first time I've ever been caught in anything like this," he says. "It's better than dying of boredom sitting at home watching CNN."

Mr. Seibert says that none of the survivors have talked about suing the charter company that arranged the trip. It is standard procedure for backcountry wilderness skiers to sign a waiver, at the start of each tour.

The avalanche is under investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.