Overview: Recreational


Overview: All fatal recreational avalanche accidents

The following list provides a brief overview of all fatal recreatioal avalanche accidents from the winters 1997 to 2007. Click on the icons for more detailed information.

  • On average, there were 12.6 avalanche fatalities in 8.9 recreational accidents per winter.
  • The winter of 2003 was the most deadly recreational avalanche winter in Canadian history with 29 avalanche fatalities in 13 seperate accidents.
  • Half of the fatal recreational avalanche accidents involved skiers and snowboarders; about a third involve snowmobilers.
  • 76% of the fatal recreational avalanche accidents took place in British Columbia, 18% in Alberta.
  • 40% of the fatal recreational avalanche accidents occurred in the Columbia Mountains and 38% in the Rocky Mountains. Only 10% were in the Coast Mountains and 2% in the Cascades.
  • Only 55% of the accident parties were fully equipped with avalanche transceivers.
  • 82% of the fatal avalanche accidents occurred when the regional avalanche danger rating was Considerable or higher.
  • Two-thirds of the fatal accidents were preceded by recent slab avalanche activity. Signs of unstable snow were present prior to the accident in 30% of the cases.
  • Recent snowfall, drifting snow or rain contributed considerably to the existing avalanche hazard in 51% of the fatal accidents.
  • Critical warming was observed prior to 25 % of the fatal accidents.
  • 76% of the fatal recreational avalanche accidents occur in complex avalanche terrain.
  • Terrain traps were present in 73% of the fatal accidents.
  • Three-quarters of the fatal accidents occurred on slopes facing northwest through north to southeast.
  • 96% of the fatal accidents occurred in areas where the steepest sections of the slope or adjacent terrain were steeper than 30 degrees; in 72% of the accidents they were steeper than 35 degrees.
  • 72% of the fatal recreational avalanche accidents were related to persistent snowpack weaknesses.
  • The most common avalanche size was 3, enough snow to bury a car or sufficient force to destroy one.
  • 92% of the avalanches were triggered by humans.
  • The typical slab thickness was 75cm.
  • 56% of fatal accidents had more than one person involved in the avalanche. On average fatal avalanche accidents typically involved two people. While one person was completely buried, the second person was either caught or partially buried without having their breathing impaired.
  • Most fatal avalanche accidents only had single fatalities. However, on average every third accident resulted in at least one additional victim with serious injuries. One in five accidents resulted in multiple fatalities.
  • The recreational avalanche accident with the most fatalities occurred on Tumbledown Mountain on 20 January 2003 and Connaught Creek on 1 February 2003 with seven fatalities each.
    Update: More recently, the accident at Harvey Pass on 28 December 2008 resulted in eight snowmobile fatalities.

It is important to recognize that the results presented in this chapter are only descriptive and cannot be used to predict the likelihood of a fatal avalanche accident happening. While the observed patterns provide useful insights about the typical patterns in fatal avalanche accidents and it is possible to hypothesize about the underlying causes, an analysis that only includes records of fatal accidents is fundamentally unable to directly identify and quantify the risk factors associated with fatal avalanche accidents. Calculating proper estimates for these risk factors requires a dataset that also includes records of non-accident situations under a wide range of conditions. However, the general lack of detailed information about recreational backcountry usage and the lower quality of data from non-fatal avalanche accidents currently prevent a meaningful statistical analysis. Because of these limitations, it is important that the statistics presented in this chapter are only viewed within this limited context and should not be extrapolated further. Diligent reporting of all avalanche involvements is therefore an important first step for improving our understanding of what factors lead to avalanche accidents.

Please help us by reporting any avalanche involvements to the Canadian Avalanche Centre via the online submission tool.

Overview: Fatalities