Ski patrollers spend night with man caught in avalanche in Alberta

This photo of Castle Mountain shows some of the area's alpine terrain.  (Bethany MacDonald/Castle Mountain Resort - image credit)
This photo of Castle Mountain shows some of the area's alpine terrain. (Bethany MacDonald/Castle Mountain Resort - image credit)

An avalanche left a skier stranded in an out-of-bounds area of an Alberta ski resort this weekend — but due to rare cell service, the man was able to call 911 for help.

That call prompted a response from two ski patrollers, who built the man a shelter and spent the night with him up on the mountain.

Cole Fawcett, the Castle Mountain Resort sales and marketing manager, said a man was skiing outside of the ski area's boundaries Friday afternoon. He was caught in an avalanche and carried down the mountain.

"We were made aware that a guest was in distress. They had managed to call 911, so they were very, very fortunate to have cell phone service because that's not common here in the Castle Provincial Park and at our resort," Fawcett said.

Staff began working with 911 responders to create a rescue response.

Amanda Goodhue was one of those responders. She's a mountain safety manager at the resort who responded as a member of the Southwest Alberta Regional Search and Rescue crew.

Goodhue, along with her colleague Madeline Martin, hiked two hours in steep rocky terrain up the mountain to the man's location.

She estimates the man had fallen about 250 metres with the avalanche, and while he was in stable condition, he was too injured to transport down the mountain.

It was dark by the time the patrollers arrived, at around 8 p.m., which meant an alpine helicopter response had to wait until the morning.

Supplied by Jason Crawford
Supplied by Jason Crawford

"We initially dug ourselves a shelter and built a tarp shelter for our patient. We prioritized that, and just got him sort of comfortable … out of the snow and as warm as possible with the items we had at the time," Goodhue said.

"There's just so many things going through your head that it's pretty hard to go to sleep, but we did stay warm, so that was great."

A second crew hiked up from the ground, arriving around 1 a.m., to bring the additional supplies and warm clothes the group needed to stay the night. Goodhue credits a huge group of people and her rescue partner with ensuring everything went smoothly and successfully.

"We were the ones that spent the night there but … it was a real team effort."

Around 9 a.m. Saturday, a Kananaskis Country Public Safety helicopter arrived. It long-lined the man off the mountain.

Cpl. Marty Reed with Pincher Creek RCMP said if the man hadn't had cell coverage, "he'd be a lost individual."

"In my estimate, another 200 feet lower, he wouldn't have had cell service. That would have been blocked by an adjacent mountain," Reed said.

Reed said he wanted to thank the two rescuers who spent the night on the mountain.

"The public safety officials from Castle Mountain are the true heroes in this story. They put themselves at risk to hike up from below where he was into this avalanche area."

RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Troy Savinkoff said the victim was in his late 30s from Nelson, B.C., who had injuries to his back, neck and legs. RCMP did not provide the man's name.

EMS/AHS spokesperson Stuart Brideaux said the man was taken to the Lethbridge hospital in stable condition with injuries related to being caught in the avalanche and cold exposure.