Backcountry skiers survive White Pass avalanche

Paul Goulet recalls how he slid over 200 metres down Log Cabin mountain in a giant river of ice and snow, after being hit by two successive avalanches. "It felt like you were coming over the top of a rollercoaster," he said.

Paul Goulet recalls how he slid over 200 metres down Log Cabin mountain in a giant river of ice and snow, after being hit by two successive avalanches.

“It felt like you were coming over the top of a rollercoaster,” he said. “I just tried to keep my hands in front of me and swim up to the surface.”

Back at home in Ottawa with a broken fibula and a bruised back, Goulet was in good spirits.

He and his friend Gaetan Martel survived an avalanche that was rated 2.5 out of 5 by Avalanche Canada. That’s somewhere between potentially burying, injuring or killing a person, and burying a car or a small building.

Goulet was in the Whitehorse area last week to take part in a few backcountry ski trips with some close friends.

Last weekend, they skied at the Haines Pass for a few days before heading to the White Pass area on Tuesday evening.

But that day, Avalanche Canada sent out a news release warning recreational backcountry skiers to be ready for increased avalanche hazard.

“Given that many slopes have yet to see a full-blown warm up we are predicting a widespread and varied array of avalanche problems this week including cornice failures, surface-layer avalanches, and failure on deeper persistent weak layers,” it said.

Seven of them left at about 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Heading up the mountain, Goulet said there were a few times when he felt vulnerable.

“At one point Gaetan and I felt like we were a bit too far left of the mountain,” he said. “And we were about 15 feet too far to the left when the first avalanche hit.”

It was 9:16 a.m. when that happened. One of Goulet’s friends had a watch and looked at it right away, knowing there is a limited amount of time to find a person buried in an avalanche.

Goulet had just taken a picture of his friend a few seconds earlier, and was facing downhill to enjoy the view when the avalanche hit.

“I almost get a chill thinking about it, because I just heard my friend yell “avalanche” and my friend Gaetan went sweeping by me,” Goulet said.

“I didn’t hear it, it was silent. I dove on top, pointing downhill, and tried swimming on top of it.”

When it stopped, Goulet was sitting up in the snow but his legs were trapped. Then, he saw the second wall of snow come down.

“It was a pretty intense experience,” he said.

Someone with Avalanche Canada estimated the second avalanche at about 200 to 250 metres wide, and about 450 metres long, Goulet said.

Because Martel’s GPS was turned on, they know exactly how far down they tumbled.

They slid about 150 metres at an average of 46 kilometres per hour.

“I have a feeling that for the first 30 seconds, we were going about 20 kilometres per hour, but for about 10 seconds we were going about 90 kilometres per hour,” he said.

Goulet’s ski got caught a rock and it twisted his leg around, breaking his fibula near his ankle. He also suffered a serious knee sprain.

He said he got scared when he was sitting in the snow at the end of the second avalanche, anticipating a third one.

“I was facing uphill and had a moment of deja vu,” he said.

“We were waiting for another one to come around the corner and we couldn’t see our friends.”

But a few of his friends, one an avid skydiver and another an experienced river guide, were soon on site and helped both Goulet and Martel out of the snow.

As soon as Goulet was out, he fell backwards and exhaled, he said.

“I was exhausted from digging myself out.”

Not being able to walk, he went down the mountain on his stomach, a technique his kids once showed him, he said.

That evening, after a visit to the Whitehorse General Hospital and dinner, Goulet and his friends celebrated by singing karaoke at the 202 Motor Inn until 2 a.m.

Goulet was wearing a Superman T-shirt and someone at the bar asked him what had happened to his leg.

“I was caught in an avalanche today and broke it,” he told the person.

He says he heard the response: “Dude, that’s crazy that you survived. Good on you guys. But you know, if you had been wearing a Batman shirt, you wouldn’t have broken your leg.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Togo member Katie Moen sits in a sled behind a snowmobile for the ride from the airport to Chief Zzeh Gittlit School. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Coming together: How Old Crow became one of the first communities in the world to be fully vaccinated

Team Togo and Team Balto assembled with a mission to not waste a single dose of vaccine

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. If council moves forward with bylaw changes, eating and drinking establishments could set up pop-up patios in on-street parking spaces. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Patios may be popping up in Whitehorse this summer

City considers program for downtown restaurants and bars

The Yukon Coroner's Service has confirmed the death of a skateboarder found injured on Hamilton Boulevard on May 2. Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News
Whitehorse man dies in skateboarding accident

Coroner urges the use of helmets, protective gear, while skateboarding.

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s baby bison, born April 22, mingles with the herd on April 29. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Yukon Wildlife Preserves welcomes two bison calves

A bison calf was the first 2021 baby born at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

A map provided by the Yukon government shows the location of unpermitted logging leading to a $2,500 fine. (Courtesy/Yukon government)
Man fined $2,500 for felling trees near Beaver Creek

The incident was investigated by natural resource officers and brought to court.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Most Read