Lives Touched – The Ripple Effects of Avalanches | Mountain Sledder
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January 7th, 2022
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Lives Touched – The Ripple Effects of Avalanches

The ripple effects of an avalanche involvement reach far beyond the victim, leaving a lasting impact on family, friends, rescuers and even total strangers.

When an avalanche occurs, the devastating effects are far reaching. In the case of a fatality, it is the people close to the victim who carry the burden long-term. But even just the news of an avalanche or a near miss can have a long-lasting impact on family and friends.

We gathered some thoughts and opinions from those who have been impacted by the devastation of an avalanche, or simply the threat of one, and how it has affected their lives. These accounts are not meant to pass judgement on any decisions made; but rather to expose the far-reaching consequences of the dangers of avalanches and, in doing so, highlight the importance of being prepared and exercising caution when riding in avalanche terrain.


Andrea Davidoff

Lives Touched Andrea Davidoff

 

The Krazy Kanadian, Dan Davidoff, was lost to an avalanche on March 14, 2016.

Beyond his legion of fans and followers, Dan left behind a wife and children. His wife, Andrea, is still working on what her new reality is like as a single parent. Making decisions that normally would have been discussed and shared with Dan is hard. Being responsible for the house, the car, the money, the pets—the list seems endless. Even looking after the garden Dan loved became a monumental task on her own, which played a part in her decision to sell their house and move to a place that required less maintenance.

“Being a single parent is the hardest thing,” says Andrea. “When Dan and I got together, this was a big thing that we agreed on. Neither of us wanted to be a single parent. Ever again. And he didn’t keep his part of the bargain on this one. I don’t feel resentful or angry. Just sad and disappointed. Because he is missing out on so many good things. All the firsts. Noah’s first day of school, first lost tooth, the first time across the monkey bars on his own. Both of our daughters’ graduation ceremonies, their first boyfriends, first places of their own.

“One of the biggest holes in my life is the fact that Noah is growing up without knowing his dad. Without being able to roughhouse, and spit, collect rocks, get firewood and do all those things that they loved together. Knowing that I can’t possibly fill those shoes because I’m so busy trying to be all the other pieces. And I don’t know how to do dad stuff with my son. It breaks my heart that they are both missing out on knowing each other.

“All of my happy moments are shadowed by a sadness. He is missing out on so much.”

Dave Merritt

Dave Merrit - avalanche victim rescuer

 

Dave Merritt wears many hats in the backcountry community.

He is a professional member of the Canadian Avalanche Association; his company, Outside Ventures, provides Avalanche Skills Training courses; and he is the manager of the Prince George Search and Rescue Society (PGSAR). When there is an avalanche incident in Northern BC, it is very likely that Dave Merritt will show up.

Avalanche victim recovery takes its toll on Dave and the members of SAR. In any SAR operation, Dave’s first priority is to keep his team safe. But keeping a victim’s emotional family focused and positive while a search is hampered by darkness or weather is a challenge. This can be exceptionally hard if a group has self-rescued but the victim has passed and must be left in the backcountry overnight. Getting loved ones home as safe and fast as possible is the goal, bringing closure to the families whatever the outcome may be.

And sometimes, in a small community of backcountry users, it can get personal when the victim is someone known to Dave or other members of SAR.

Dave has participated in over 45 SAR tasks since digging out his first body in 1993. He thinks of his ability to keep doing it like a cup that is slowly filling: “I don’t know if I am near the bottom, or if the cup is almost full. But it is filling. Maybe my next recovery will be the one where I say, ‘That’s it, I’m out.’”

Bruce Williams

Avalanche victim companion Bruce Williams

 

Fifteen years ago, avalanche awareness was not as common amongst backcountry users as it is today.

Still, there were groups with the necessary gear and training, and as one of those, Bruce Williams and his buddies had confidence in their abilities in the backcountry.

On one particular ride, the group noticed some small sloughing in a few areas and decided to move on to what was considered “better” terrain. Yet, despite this decision, one of the riders in the group was completely buried when an entire hillside came down, filling the valley bottom with avalanche debris an estimated six meters deep.

Armed with transceivers and the ability to use them, the well-prepared group found their friend Scott quickly. However, he was buried head down—leaving a lot of work to do, digging through the cement-like snow before they could reach his airway. Despite their best efforts, Scott did not survive.

The incident took a big bite out of Bruce’s passion for sledding, but the final straw came a year later when he found himself digging out another friend in a similar area, not far from the site of the fatal avalanche a year before. While the outcome was a positive one this time, it made Bruce think, “I really don’t need this.” With young children at home, he understood that he had more important priorities in his life.

While he does miss his days riding in the mountains, Bruce has found other ways to fill his winters since then. “I play a lot of hockey,” he says.

Julie Cote

Lives Touched Julie Cote

 

Even the tragic news of an avalanche can place an emotional burden on those who may not themselves ride in avalanche terrain, but have loved ones who do.

Julie Cote, whose spouse frequents the backcountry, is one of those empathetic people.

“I am an avid worrier. Every year, I hear about experienced sledders losing their lives in the mountains. I hear about the dangers and avalanche warnings in the areas he loves to ride.

“We are both volunteer firefighters, so I understand the thrill of potential dangers we may encounter in that role. We both understand the importance of personal safety, and proper safety gear and equipment. Despite how well prepared he is—and I know he is prepared—can anyone ever be prepared enough for Mother Nature? Avalanches, cliffs, breakdowns, unpredictable weather conditions to name a few: these are the things I worry about.”

Toby Cartwright

Lives Touched Toby Cartwright

 

When a prolonged cold snap finally broke in January of 2016, Toby Cartwright and his friends were anxious to get out and enjoy the fresh powder that was waiting.

Before heading into the backcountry, the tight-knit group of riding friends discussed a known instability in the snowpack.

But when the wall of snow hit and buried one member of their group, that rider never saw it coming. Cartwright did, but it was too late to warn his friend. Having previously broken out into smaller pairs, he was the only other rider in the immediate area. He radioed for the rest of the group and started an immediate search.

Knowledgeable and well-practiced with avy gear, Cartwright pinpointed the victim’s location quickly and started digging. Unfortunately, the victim was buried too deep for the solo rescue to be successful in time. Search and Rescue would be needed for the recovery mission.

“Coming back to town and calling family and friends was the hardest,” says Cartwright.

The group of friends was knowledgeable, trained, well-practiced and familiar with the area. They had discussed the conditions and managed the risk as best the group reasonably could.

Despite the tragedy, the group of best friends still rides together, including an emotional yearly return to the site of the avalanche.

“Quitting riding was never an option,” says Cartwright. “Kenny would be the first to tell us to get our asses back out there.”