LAKE LOUISE – An experienced Canmore skier had a lucky escape after tumbling several hundred metres halfway down the Cobra couloir on the north face of Mount Temple earlier this week.
On Monday (Dec. 28), Parks Canada was alerted that a skier had fallen and injured his knee and dislocated his shoulder while skiing the technical couloir on the 3,544-metre peak – the highest mountain in the Lake Louise area.
Rescuers say the man who fell was the first in the party of three to ski, making about six turns as he started from the top of the couloir before falling, most likely due to variability in the snow, and then tumbled "hundreds of metres."
“He tumbled out of sight,” said Aaron Beardmore, visitor safety specialist for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay, noting the other two experienced skiers cautiously began to ski down to find their friend.
“They weren’t really sure where he was going to end up – it’s a very steep couloir, as steep or steeper than 45 degrees – and they were calling to him, picking up certain articles of gear like a ski, a pole, etcetera.”
As they continued skiing down, the two made voice contact with their friend, and then saw him lying on the snow surface about halfway down the steep couloir, located to the right of another popular ski line on Temple, Dolphin couloir.
“It came as bit of a surprise to them, as it did to me, that he stopped where he did, which is approximately in the dead centre of the couloir,” Beardmore said.
“No one knows how he stopped, but he is very lucky he stopped where he did. The longer distance you fall, the more susceptible you are to injury.”
The skiers applied First Aid and made their friend as comfortable as they could while using a two-way satellite emergency notification device (SEND) to contact Parks Canada.
Rescuers asked the skiers to shovel out a flat platform on the steep couloir to make it easier for a helicopter rescue.
“That message got through, but we didn’t receive confirmation, but they did that, which was great,” Beardmore said.
As it turned out, despite the location, it wasn’t a highly technical rescue in the sense of using specialized techniques, however Beardmore said it was extremely technical flying by Alpine Helicopters’ pilot Todd Cooper.
“He did a fantastic job as usual,” he said.
“I would say it required extremely technical flying … high up on a steep north wall.”
Lake Louise Fire Department cleared a section of the busy parking lot at the Chateau Lake Louise, where the injured man was helicopter-slung to a waiting ambulance.
“He was taken to Mineral Springs Hospital,” Beardmore said.
The people in the group were considered experienced skiers.
They were wearing helmets and had the necessary gear – beacon, probe, transceivers – and an satellite emergency notification device.
“We hope the individual has a speedy recovery and is doing well,” Beardmore said.
Visitor safety specialists in Banff say they have noticed an increase in popularity of steep couloir skiing.
Beardmore said these couloirs are typically skied later in the season, but there are sometimes good conditions earlier in winter.
“With increased numbers, there’s an increase in the number of accidents,” he said, noting anecdotally its seems rescuers are responding to more skiers falling down couloirs.
In addition, Parks Canada advises people to be aware of the avalanche danger at all times, wear helmets on the ascent as well as the descent, and be aware of overhead cornices on ridges.
“You want to make sure the avalanche danger is low because you’re skiing a very steep alpine feature that’s very susceptible to avalanche,” Beardmore said.
Mountaineering skills are also highly recommended, including use of ropes, ice axe and crampons.
“Skiing these couloirs is something one should graduate to, not something that you should do the minute you start ski mountaineering or ski touring,” he said.
“There have been a lot of movies that promotes these, and it’s exciting, but it’s something that can take years to develop the skill-set before attempting.”