Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2008-02-19
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Kootenay National Park, Chickadee Valley
State: AB
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 2 skiers caught, 1 partially buried, 1 completely buried and killed

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Woman who died in avalanche was 'passionate, full of life'

Cathy Ellis , Canwest News Service

Published: Tuesday, February 19

CANMORE, Alta. - A woman killed in an avalanche in Kootenay National Park Monday was an avid adventurer and amateur athlete whose love of extreme sports had taken her to the edge more than once.

Susanna Lantz, 28, known to her friends as Susie, was from Canmore, Alta., about 100 kilometres west of Calgary. Her death on Monday brings the total number of people killed in avalanches this winter in Western Canada to 14.

Lantz was an avid outdoor enthusiast who competed in gruelling adventure races. A hard-core cyclist and keen rock climber, she was affectionately described as "wicked funny", and a "slightly wacky, bionic athlete"

"Susie was a real adventurer and traveller," said her brother-in-law, Tom Wolfe, who noted she moved to Alberta from Ontario 10 years before.

"She was exceptionally enthusiastic, courageous, determined and up for any challenge."

Her roommate, Kaeli Benoit, said she made people want to embrace life.

"She was kind, extremely loving and the most generous person I've ever met," she said.

Benoit said Lantz had just turned 28 on Valentine's Day and chose to celebrate her birthday by skiing near Vancouver.

A few years back, she fulfilled one of her dreams, saving enough money while tree-planting to ride her bike from Calgary to the southern tip of South America.

Along the way, she stopped to climb in Yosemite National Park in California, and camped alone in culverts by the road.

"She was probably the most passionate, full-of-life person I've ever met," said Benoit.

"She jumped after life. She was extremely passionate and loved every aspect of life. She was thankful every day, just having the opportunity to live."

Lantz died Monday when a massive avalanche swept down on her and a friend in an area known as Chickadee Valley on the south side of the Great Divide, bordering Banff and Kootenay national parks.

The avalanche was rated at 3.5 intensity on the avalanche scale, which runs from one to five - five reserved for "exceptional" slides capable of causing widespread death and destruction. The slide was about two metres deep, 300 metres wide and one kilometre long. It's believed to have been a natural slide triggered by daytime heating and sun on south slopes.

Avalanche conditions at the time were rated "considerable."

Lantz and her companion, reportedly from Calgary, were preparing to ski down when the avalanche struck, carrying them about 60 metres down the slope and completely burying Lantz in about 70 centimetres of snow.

The surviving woman, who rescuers say fought hard to stay on the surface of the slide, was buried up to her chest.

The two young women were carrying transceivers and backcountry equipment.

Wardens say the surviving woman tried frantically to find Lantz, but couldn't because she had badly injured her arm.

When she couldn't continue searching, she hiked out until she hit cellphone range and managed to raise the alarm.

Public safety warden Percy Woods said wardens found the surviving woman on the trail. They flew her back to the scene by helicopter to help with the search.

Wardens and a dog-handler found the buried woman.

Lantz's body was taken to Invermere, B.C., and the other woman was taken to Mineral Springs Hospital in Banff.

Western Canadian avalanches have claimed 14 lives this winter - double last winter's total - yet there are still 10 weeks left in the season, said John Kelly, operations manager at the Canadian Avalanche Centre in Revelstoke, B.C.

"The 10-year average is 13.9 people killed a year," Kelly said Tuesday. "But here we are, two-thirds of the way through February, and we still have all of March and April. It's an above-average year, obviously."

That's particularly bad news, he added, since March is usually the worst month for avalanche fatalities.

Eight people were killed by avalanches in 2005-06 and nine died in 2004-05.

The reason this winter has been especially deadly, Kelly said, is that rain fell at mountaintop level, and as early as December.

"We got a firm crust, followed by sudden cold and snow on top. That created structural weaknesses deep in the snowpack, and the additional weight triggered avalanches."

In December alone, four people died in those avalanches, and another six died in January.

"Now we're in a regular pattern in February of avalanche accidents. It's sad but not unusual. We can expect a normal finish to the season," Kelly said.

Six of the 14 who've died in avalanches so far this season were snowmobiling at the time.

The last incident was on the weekend, when a 35-year-old Calgary man died while snowmobiling with a group near Revelstoke. He died while "high-marking," a dangerous stunt that involves trying to crest a peak, or to get as far up a slope as possible.

Another snowmobiler died in hospital Feb. 1 after an avalanche overtook him north of Elkford, Alta, which is about 150 kilometres southeast of Calgary.

And before that, 61-year-old Peter Bowle-Evans of Golden, B.C., died in an avalanche while backcountry skiing near Kicking Horse Mountain Resort on Jan. 16.

Canmore woman killed in Kootenay avalanche

Calgary Herald

Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2008

CALGARY - A Canmore woman is dead and a Calgary woman is in hospital after they were swept up in backcountry avalanche in Kootenay National Park.

The slide thundered down late Monday afternoon in Chickadee Valley on the south side of the great divide bordering Banff and Kootenay parks.

The skiers were prepared for the backcountry and were carrying transceivers and backcountry equipment. However, the avalanche completely buried the Canmore woman.

The Calgary skier was partially buried and able to dig herself out and begin searching for her friend. Another wave of snow forced the freed woman to hike out and call for help. She was taken to Banff Mineral Springs hospital.

Avalanche conditions were rated considerable at alpine and tree line. More information will be released later today.