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Several deaths occur in Whistler

Allen Best

WHISTLER, B.C. Ð Late January was a bad, sad time in Whistler, with death lurking at every turn.

On the slopes of Whistler Mountain, a 21-year-old snowboarder from Japan caught some impressive air, but landed on rocks, which threw him off balance, hurtling him toward more rocks. He died of trauma.

A 43-year builder who had been cat skiing during a vacation to the Kootenay Mountains left his 11 companions to ski a trail that was described as “about as dangerous as a parking lot.” But he skied into soft snow and plunged head first. It was, said observers, “too fluky for words.” He suffocated.

There were other tragedies.

A 29-year-old backcountry skier described as an expert in the ways of the great outdoors got caught in an avalanche, which killed him. “It was one of the most beautiful days of the year Ð blue skies, perfect snow, no wind,” recalled a companion, who had been with the victim and the victim’s fiancee on a steep ridge at 7,900 feet (which is very high for the Whistler area). Friends recalled the victim’s “infectious enthusiasm” for life and his passion for mountain biking, rock climbing and all else outdoors.

And finally, there was a highway accident in which seven people died. Five of the workers were adherents of the Sikh religion, four of whom had been born in India. They all worked as janitors, bellmen and stewards at hotels in Whistler, and all had been working the nightshift.

They were returning to their homes when their car ran head-on into a car carrying two other area residents, a father and son on their way to a hockey match.

Reflecting on the tragedies, Pique columnist G.D. Maxwell wrote: “We can build better highways and safer cars. We can promulgate Alpine Rules of Safety and wear helmets. We can forbid schools from taking backcountry trips and we can bomb the hell out of snowy slopes. But we can’t change the fundamental nature of what we are.

“As long as people do something more than sit at home with their hands folded safely in their laps, mistakes will be made and death will ensure. We can grieve for the dead, comfort the survivors, try to learn from our mistakes and preach safety to the deaf, but we can’t rewire humans to keep them from screwing up.

“It’s part of what we are.”


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