March 28th, 2017

Lone Snowmobiler Lives After Buried by Avalanche near Terrace, BC

A lone snowmobiler survived being buried by an avalanche at the South Douglas zone near Terrace, BC on Sunday, March 26

The sledder, who was reportedly riding alone with his transceiver off, was buried 2m beneath the avalanche debris. Two nearby snowmobilers, who had heard the engine sound of a distant snowmobile stop and happened to notice a cloud of white in the distance, moved to investigate.

Avalanche Rescue

Together with another group of three riders flagged down by the first two as they arrived on scene—including rescuer Regan Kardas—the five sledders immediately began searching the area of debris for a transceiver signal, starting at the toe of the debris. The avalanche deposit search area was approximately 40-60m wide by 3m deep according to Kardas, and having been triggered in two separate gullies.



Photo: Steve Brushie


Kardas and members of his group of three had recently completed a Companion Rescue Skills course and knew that with no transceiver signal present that the next step would be to search for surface clues and begin to probe likely areas.

Kardas and group had “found some key areas of heavy deposit” and begun random probing out of desperation. Incredibly, on his 3rd or 4th probe of the debris, Kardas felt something squishy at a shallower depth than his first couple of probes. At that point, Kardas began shoveling to investigate further as the rest of the group continued probing.

After approximately 15 minutes from the time of the avalanche, Kardas uncovered the gloved, limp hand of the victim. The rescuers immediately went to work excavating the victim, and the sledder was found unconscious beneath 1.9m of avalanche debris.





Lucky to be Found Alive

According to Kardas, the victim exhibited “laboured, shallow breathing”, and his skin was blue as the snow was excavated around his head. He shortly after recovered conciousness as the team worked to unbury him fully, and CPR was not administered. The team used the conveyor belt shoveling method learned in their courses to quickly extract the victim in a very short time.

Kardas said, “He was a tough old guy, a little banged up, missing a tooth. He was pretty choked up. I think he was overwhelmed with what had just happened.” The victim was adamant about excavating his snowmobile and getting home once recovered from the burial.


Rescuers credit their recent Avalanche Canada Companion Rescue Skills course with saving the victim's life.

Rescuers credit their recent Avalanche Canada Companion Rescue Skills course with saving the victim’s life.



Avalanche Training Credited in Saving Victim’s Life

Kardas credits both the combined efforts of the sledders and the avalanche safety training the group had received in saving the victim’s life. “The Companion Rescue course was key,” said Kardas. “Everyone’s role was critical, and working together played a huge role.”

Members of his group have been recently certified in Avalanche Skills Training (AST) 1, Operations Level 1 and Companion Rescue Skills courses offered by Avalanche Canada.


Editor’s note:

It certainly is astounding that the victim survived. The chance of finding a person buried beneath an avalanche deposit in a short window of time and with no transceiver to aid in the search is incredibly poor. It was also tremendously lucky that other riders were near enough to witness the lone rider’s involvement in the avalanche.

These are valuable lessons that can’t be overstated. The important of following avalanche safety precautions such as always riding with a partner is key. Always wear a transceiver, and do a transceiver check to make sure that all parties are transmitting before leaving the trailhead. Carry your shovel and probe in your pack, on your body at all times in avalanche terrain. And finally, take an avalanche rescue course so that in the event of an avalanche, you and your group can quickly and efficiently respond to help save the life of one of your group or another.


— MS