WENTWORTH – Charlie Stevens was surprised to see a deluge of snow coming his way while skiing on Higgins Mountain last Saturday.
The 21-year-old Hilden resident, who lives in Wentworth during the winter, was skiing in the backcountry with three friends during Saturday’s snowstorm when he skied down a slope on the east side of the mountain, triggering a snow slide that buried him up to his chest.
The incident triggered an alert from the Canadian Avalanche Centre.
“It was an interesting experience. It’s not something I was expecting,” Stevens said Tuesday. “We were out prospecting areas for a potential ski touring company. We came across this great pitch. I skied down it and it broke away.”
Stevens said the slide was about 30 metres wide and about 30 centimetres deep when it broke away from the hill. He admitted to being surprised it resulted in an avalanche alert.
“I skied down the slope and looked up behind me and saw the snow coming. I was near a gully so I had no place to go. I braced myself because I knew I was going to be OK,” he said. “I wasn’t in any real danger. There were other guys with me and they could see me.”
Stevens said he was able to dig down to free himself from his skis and wiggled his way out of the pile of snow. He said he is familiar with the area and has skied it his entire life. He doesn’t believe there’s any danger in the area.
Leslie Wilson, who manages nearby Ski Wentworth, said the alert caught her off guard. At first, she thought it was a joke.
“We didn’t believe it at first,” Wilson said. “Someone from the media called and I had to stop them and ask if they were serious.”
Wilson said 40 cm of fresh snow fell on Ski Wentworth over the weekend and said ski conditions are excellent. She stressed there is absolutely no danger of an avalanche or snow slide at the ski hill.
“People don’t need to worry about avalanches at Ski Wentworth,” Wilson said. “There are no issues on our main trails. What happened (on Higgins Mountain) was not an avalanche, the snow pack let go. It was interesting that it became an avalanche alert.”
Karl Klassen, the public avalanche warning service manager for the Canadian Avalanche Centre, said avalanches are rare, but can happen. He said heavy snow and wind contribute to increased avalanche danger.
“While not common, avalanche accidents and even fatalities have occurred in Eastern Canada when the conditions are right,” Klassen told the CBC. “People engaged in activities such as skiing, snowmobiling and tobogganing should be aware of the hazard and take precautions.”
The centre is urging people to avoid steep slopes, gullies and other places where sliding snow could push them into a creek or lake. Klassen said any slope greater than 20 to 25 degrees is a risk, including small pieces of terrain like hills where children toboggan.