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GPS alert helped emergency crews locate ice climber caught in deadly Alta. avalanche

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A GPS alert helped rescuers find one of the climbers caught in an avalanche in Kananaskis Country on Saturday that left another dead.

According to Avalanche Canada, two ice climbers in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park were hit by an avalanche in Ranger Creek.

RCMP confirmed Sunday that rescuers found a 26-year-old woman on Saturday, but did not find the 29-year-old man she was climbing with.

His body was recovered Sunday and was taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Police say the man was from Squamish, B.C.

Emergency crews received a Garmin GPS alert on Saturday, informing them of the incident, according to RCMP. The woman also had a shovel that she used to dig herself out.

“She was actually also buried in the snow but was able to get herself out on her own utilizing the equipment that she had,” Alberta RCMP Cpl. Troy Savinkoff said.

“So they did have some awareness and had brought some things knowing that this could be a potential issue.”

This is the first avalanche death of the 2023-24 winter season in Canada. In 2022-23, there were 15 fatalities, with 14 occurring in B.C. and one in Alberta.

“This is a fairly early start to the season,” said James Floyer with Avalanche Canada.

“You have to go back to 2011 for a previous recreational fatality in November which was a snowmobiler, and then in 2006 and 2007 each of those years there was also an ice climber who died in November under early season conditions.”

The two climbers were reportedly starting their descent on foot from the base of the Lone Ranger ice climb when a wind slab avalanche hit them from above, sweeping the pair into a gully on the slope below.

A wind slab is one or more layers of snow that have been deposited by wind. This type of snowpack is often found on the sides of slopes.

“There was a wind slab avalanche sitting above a crest, and a crest creates a slippery sliding surface and the wind slap develops in response to wind blown over that typically forms in the lea or the downwind of the mountain features,” Floyer said.

“For ice climbers, that can be quite problematic because you’re often not aware that slopes above can be loaded by wind and fresh snow.”

Avalanche Canada said the wind slab avalanche was one of many in the area on Saturday and warned that similar events would be possible Monday afternoon.

The area was assigned a “considerable” avalanche danger level, which is the third level out of five. At level three, natural avalanches are possible and human-triggered avalanches are likely.

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