Keith Hynes knows his buddy is one lucky man.
The Deer Lake man was on a snowmobiling trip on the Northern Peninsula with a group of eight or nine others recently when one of the worst things that could happen did occur.
Hynes was towards the rear of the group as they neared the Town of Hawkes Bay and traversed some hilly terrain. When he caught up with those at the front of the group, he could see one of them had just got caught in an avalanche.
“I didn’t see it happen, but it would have been just minutes before I got there,” he said.
His friend was buried up to his chest in snow and only a portion of his snowmobile’s windshield was poking up through the chunks that had slid down a nearby hill.
Fortunately, the rest of the group was able to quickly dig the man and his machine out. He was fine physically and the snowmobile was good to go, so they all continued on with their excursion.
The man who was buried in the snow did not want to be identified or do an interview about the experience, but Hynes acknowledged things could have been worse.
“It was definitely a scary moment, but it was otherwise an excellent day,” said Hynes. “We all knew the possibilities of something like this happening, no matter what your experience is.”
He figured the man could have gotten himself out of the snow, but not without a little bit of a struggle first. He was fortunate, noted Hynes, not to have had his head or more of his body buried.
In 2007, a man died in roughly the same area after he was buried by an avalanche while snowmobiling with friends.
Hynes said his group was prepared to deal with an avalanche situation, but declined to go into detail of what sort of equipment they had exactly.
“We know this can be a dangerous sport and we aren’t exactly in a flower shop when we’re out there,” he said.
According to Avalanche Canada, an organization that offers training in identifying avalanche risks and how to conduct rescues from snow slides, anyone venturing into areas prone to avalanches should be wearing a beacon that can transmit a signal to searchers. Searchers should also have shovels and telescopic probes for finding people buried beneath the surface.
The 10 commandments for mountain snowmobilers:
Know the avalanche forecast
Have a plan for your trip and choose terrain based on the avalanche forecast
Have a plan B for simpler terrain if avalanche conditions are at all questionable or have changed rapidly
Ensure that everyone in your group has a properly working avalanche transceiver and probe on their person and knows how to use it.
Only allow one person on a slope at a time.
If crossing an avalanche path, expose only one person at a time.
Watch or gather in safe areas, never in avalanche run-out zones or terrain traps.
Always pay attention to snow conditions and the terrain above you as you move through areas.
Gather frequently in safe areas and discuss your route observations.
If you see others in unsafe situations, speak up.
Source: Avalanche Canada