Kootenay Pass avalanche on Sunday afternoon. To the left of the photo are tracks from the Zanussi’s truck. (Brian Zanussi photo)

Couple caught in Kootenay Pass avalanche

Rossland man recounts close call on Sunday afternoon on the Kootenay Pass

A Rossland couple was caught in an avalanche on the Kootenay Pass Sunday afternoon – all within a half hour of the highway being re-opened.

Brian Zanussi, his wife, and family dog were on their way back from a weekend in Kimberley when they were stuck in a huge back up of traffic on the Creston-side while the ministry carried out avalanche control.

Shortly after 3:30 p.m. the highway opened up and away they went in the couple’s Dodge pick up.

It wasn’t long after cresting the top of the pass and heading down toward Salmo that things took a scary turn.

Brian recalls seeing bits of snow starting to tumble down the hill, and his wife giving a warning cry.

Before he knew it, the rear of the vehicle driving ahead was impacted by a rush of snow and propelled forward. Brian recalls the snow carrying his truck dangerously close to the steep embankment on the left-hand side.

“The snow was fast, you couldn’t outrun it,” he said. “But it was calm, like a river of snow.”

Other than being shaken up, thankfully no one was hurt.

The vehicles involved were damaged, and Brian says his truck is in the shop for a wheel re-alignment (snow from the avalanche had packed tightly into the wheel wells).

Because the ministry had just finished avalanche control, a crew was not far down the hill from where the incident occurred.

The highway was again closed so workers could clear the avalanche which Brian estimates was about six feet high and 30-or-so-feet wide.

DriveBC issued an advisory on Sunday afternoon that the Kootenay Pass would remain closed until 11 p.m. for avalanche deposit removal. Notably, the highway stayed closed until approximately 2 a.m.

Avalanche Canada is warning the public of dangerous avalanche conditions throughout the Kootenay Boundary in alpine, tree line and below tree line areas.

Loose wet avalanches were triggered naturally and by explosives in the region’s higher elevations on Monday. They were large in all size and on all aspects between 1700 m and 2100 m.

An additional 15 to 25 cm of snow fell on Tuesday, for storm snow totals of 30 to 50 cm since Monday morning. The snow fell on a melt-freeze crust produced from rain and warm temperatures on Sunday. Numerous other melt-freeze crusts exist in the upper snowpack from rain, sun, and warming during the spring season. The snowpack below this is generally well-settled and strong.

At lower elevations below treeline, a spring snowpack exists.

Sun and warming will increase the likelihood of avalanches. Both loose wet and storm slab avalanches could be triggered naturally or by humans. Avalanche Canada advises people to be particularly cautious on south slopes when it is sunny and avoid overhead exposure.

Avalanche Canada is Canada’s national public avalanche safety organization. Based in Revelstoke, the non-profit organization’s aim is to minimize public avalanche risk in avalanche terrain.

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