In the Path of an Avalanche
Greystone Books, 2003
Overnight the storm moved on. The skiers in Kokanee Glacier Park woke
on Friday to a gloriously cold, sparkly morning. "It was a bluebird
day," recalls Cal Lloyd. The two groups were almost giddy at
the gift of sun shimmering on drifts of fresh powder after a week
of cloudy skies and crummy visibility. Dave Heagy measured 39 centimeters
of snow in the past 24 hours at the Slocan Chief cabin. At Silver
Spray, Nicola recorded 31 centimeters of new snow. Temperatures were
dropping. The winds were blowing strongly from the northwest. During
Heagy's and Nicola's radio check that morning, they talked about the
fresh snowfall and the previous day's avalanche bulletin.
The evening before, the Silver Spray group had discussed a plan for
their last day in the mountains. Soon they would be back to the strains
and stresses of regular life. And the luxuries, too; a bath would
definitely be a good idea. But before that, the best weather and snow
conditions of the entire week lay waiting for them. They'd decided
they would traverse over to the forested slopes below Woodbury Mountain,
an area known as the Woodbury glades. The ski runs there would be
relatively safe because the slopes were less steep and the trees would
help to anchor the snow. To get to those slopes, however, they would
have to travel to the far side of Clover Basin, the wide, open bowl
below Sunrise Mountain.
In summer, Clover Basin is a sloping, hummocky, boulder-strewn meadow
rich with wildflowers and huckleberries and drained by tumbling Silver
Spray creek. Hikers slogging up the steep trail from the Woodbury
valley, heading for the Silver Spray cabin, emerge from the forest
and traverse this subalpine basin, stopping to bask in the south-facing
exposure or take in the superb views.
In winter, the bowl can be a fantastic thigh-burner of a ski run as
far down as a skier is willing to climb up again. The vertical drop
is several hundred metres. But Clover Basin contains some known avalanche
paths, so the snowpack has to be stable to ski those lines. Today,
the group wouldn't spend much time in the basin but would instead
traverse across it.
Carrie Fitzsimons decided that she was not up to an energetic day
of skiing and elected to stay in the cabin. Lise Nicola was also planning
to stay behind, to deal with custodial chores such as cleaning the
cabin, shoveling the pathway to the outhouse and stomping down the
helipad with snowshoes. However, when some of the guys offered to
help her with this work afterwards if she wanted to join them on the
slopes, she rushed to get ready.
The skiers stuffed their lunches into their backpacks along with the
usual gear for a day of skiing in the mountains. Then Driscoll, Leidal,
Von Blumen, Cowan, Bradley and Nicola headed out the door to put on
What a morning! The sun was shining, and those rays felt so good.
Time to dig out the sunglasses. Once set to go, the group skied towards
the rim of the basin, their tracks slicing through the blanket of
undisturbed whiteness. The cooler temperatures had helped to dry out
the snow, and the top layer was light and fluffy. On such a morning,
when the sky is the color of forget-me-nots and the snow is soft as
baby powder, it's hard to believe anything could ever go wrong. Less
than a minute later, the group dropped over the edge and down the
side of the bowl into Clover Basin.
Photographs later developed from Driscoll's camera indicate that he
probably skied down first and took photos of the others making their
turns. It was common for either Driscoll or Von Blumen to be first
down the slope and for the other to come down last, after watching
the rest of the party descend. In the event that skiers are caught
by a slide, you want someone watching where the avalanche takes them,
so they can be dug out quickly. The group seems to have skied down
onto a flat bench within the basin.
Back in the cabin, Carrie Fitzsimons did the dishes and read her novel.
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