There was no way anyone could have survived, thought the four Terrace locals. They’d just watched a massive avalanche rip across Cherry Bowl, an alpine bowl outside the Shames Mountain ski area in northern B.C., and gobble four ski tourers before racing to the valley hundreds of metres below. Regardless of the chances of survival, they jumped into action. Within 20 minutes all four of the avalanche victims were on the surface and breathing.
“These guys essentially performed a miracle,” says Mary Clayton, communications manager at Avalanche Canada. “In our world of accident prevention and public safety, too often our educational opportunities are based on tragedy. So when we heard this story we knew we wanted to tell it to a wider audience.”
Two years after the accident, Avalanche Canada has turned the story into an interactive website, avalanche.ca/cherrybowl. Scroll down the page and the day unfolds for the two groups in video interviews and lessons learned. Between video segments is information on rescue gear, geography, how the snowpack changes over time and other topics. It ends with the rescuers talking about how a refresher avalanche rescue course they took earlier in the winter made all the difference to how the day ended.
“It’s quite cool how they all say it was just like the scenarios they practiced, even down to the panicked guy trying to throw you off,” says Clayton, who managed the project. “The rescuers were skilled and experienced backcountry skiers who recognized that honing their rescue skills every year is a worthwhile investment.”