Two young men from Haines were killed Monday afternoon in an avalanche at Haines Pass near the Alaska border in northwest British Columbia, authorities said Tuesday morning.
Three friends from Haines were caught in the avalanche around 1:30 p.m., and Zane Durr and Matthew Green — both 21 — died in the slide, according to Al Giddings, Haines Volunteer Fire Department chief. The avalanche occurred in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, off the Haines Highway between the Southeast Alaska town and Haines Junction in Yukon Territory, according to Andy Watson of the B.C. Coroners Service.
The third person, 16-year-old male, survived being caught in the slide, Giddings said.
The group of three snowboarders had been climbing on foot up a slope with a north-northeast aspect at an elevation around 3,300 feet near the Haines Highway, according to preliminary information from Avalanche Canada. About two-thirds of the way up, a slab avalanche about 5 feet deep and 60 to 330 feet wide was triggered. It ran nearly 500 feet into an area where abrupt changes in the terrain caused snow to pile up, fully burying two of the men and partially burying the third group member, who was able to pull himself out and call for help, according to Avalanche Canada.
Daniel Dreiseitl told the CBC that on his way home from a day of skiing nearby, he saw someone waving his arms and the remnants of an avalanche about 650 feet from the road. Dreiseitl spoke with the survivor, who said their group had planned to snowboard down the slope after climbing up, before an avalanche swept through two hours earlier, according to Dreiseitl’s accounting of the event to the CBC.
“He mentioned that he saw some cracks in the snow but they didn’t pay attention to that," Dreiseitl told the CBC. "Then when they were standing and chatting and looking around, it was at that time that they triggered the avalanche.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police received an SOS signal from an emergency locator at Haines Pass, according to the Haines Volunteer Fire Department, which described the group as a party of skiers.
The exact cause of the deaths was still being investigated Tuesday morning.
“It’s a very sad day in Haines,” the Haines Avalanche Center wrote on Facebook. “Our love and support goes out to the families involved.”
On Tuesday evening, arrangements to bring the two deceased individuals back to Alaska were still being made, according to Giddings. A prayer vigil was held at a church in Haines on Tuesday morning.
“It’s been a day of mourning for the entire community in Haines," Giddings said.
The deaths of Durr and Green mark the first avalanche fatalities of the season in Canada, which had 12 fatalities during the 2018-19 season, according to Avalanche Canada data.
Avalanche danger in the area had been high since a storm dropped heavy snowfall from Dec. 23 to Dec. 25, according to James Minifie, lead avalanche technician for Avalanche Canada in the Yukon Region. With more snow came strong winds and a rise in temperatures, Minifie said.
“That’s a recipe for increased avalanche danger,” Minifie said.
It’s likely the avalanche was either a storm slab avalanche or a wind slab avalanche, which are both “associated with incoming storms and intense storms,” he said.
Though the area does not have a current avalanche forecast, Avalanche Canada expects the avalanche danger to remain high for days, Minifie said, since the storms are continuing.
Bringing avalanche equipment and knowing how to use it is important when recreating in avalanche terrain, Minifie said. Additionally, he recommended bringing a satellite communication device and telling someone where you are headed and how long you plan on being gone.
“During these periods of elevated avalanche danger, it’s good to minimize your exposure to avalanche terrain altogether," Minifie said.