Father, son buried under snow for a week after Lake Louise avalanche
Published Sunday, March 16, 2014 7:28AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, March 16, 2014 7:10PM EDT
Officials are calling it a tragedy.
A father and son from Montreal, on trip to the Rocky Mountains, trigger an avalanche while out tobogganing in Lake Louise, Alta. They remain buried under snow for a week before their bodies are located by search crews.
The RCMP say the two victims, whose names have been not been released pending notification to next of kin, were last seen on March 9 when they rented a toboggan from the Chateau Lake Louise.
Officials believe the 33-year-old man and his 11-year-old son triggered an avalanche while tobogganing and were swept away by the massive bank of snow.
The two weren’t reported missing to the RCMP until March 14, when they failed to check out of their hotel room.
The RCMP requested the assistance of Parks Canada Search and Rescue to help locate the pair on Saturday afternoon.
A Parks Canada official found a partially buried toboggan in the avalanche debris that night and search crews later located the bodies of the two victims, with the help of an avalanche dog, at the base of Mount Fairview on the shore of Lake Louise.
“We don’t know exactly when it happened,” said Bill Hunt, Banff National Park resource conservation manager.
“They had been missing for some time,” he told CTV Calgary.
Officials believe the two wandered toward the left side of the lake, an area known for its treacherous slope conditions.
Hunt says the location where the father and son were found is a known “avalanche slope” and experiences a number of slides each year.
Officials say the avalanche hazard for that region of the park was rated as “high” and it is not an area where Parks Canada typically conducts avalanche-control work.
Hunt believes the two victims were tourists who were unfamiliar with the risky terrain.
"In this case it would appear that we're dealing with someone who just had no idea even to need to ask for the information," Hunt said. “These were not the typical backcountry enthusiasts or thrill seekers in any way.”
The deaths are the latest in a particularly deadly avalanche season across Canada this year.
A 36-year-old man from Lloydminster, Sask., died of injuries he suffered Friday night in an avalanche near Blue River, B.C., about halfway between Kamloops, B.C., and Jasper, Alta.
And a 38-year-old man from Calgary was critically injured Saturday when he and some fellow skiers triggered an avalanche in Alberta's Banff National Park.
“It’s been a really tragic and difficult week; there’s been seven fatalities in five separate accidents in the past week,” said Ilya Storm, Canadian Avalanche Centre spokesperson.
Storm told CTV Calgary that with rapidly changing weather conditions and little clues as to where trigger spots are located, the risk of avalanches are particularly high this time of season.
“Many of the problems are hidden in the snow pack; it’s not problems that are on the surface but problems dealing with layers that are 60, 80, 100, 150 centimetres below the surface,” says Storm.
Storm compares current conditions to a house of cards.
“Sometimes it’s just a skier or a snowmobiler who goes onto a slope and tips the balance, causes those dominoes to start falling and triggers an avalanche. And suddenly a whole mountain side or a big chunk of a mountain side breaks loose with just the addition of a person’s weight.”
Parks Canada says it has taken steps to ensure visitors are made aware of the avalanche risk with additional signage, radio messages and warnings for tourists at hotels and rental-equipment shops.
Hunt says that while officials have worked hard to alert tourists of the potential dangers on the slope, more can be done to avoid tragedies in the future.
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV's Alberta Bureau Chief Janet Dirks.