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UPDATE: More details emerge in Revelstoke heli-ski avalanche death

A heli-skier was killed in a Dec. 30 avalanche near Revelstoke.

45-year-old Canadian man Greg Sheardown died after four people were caught in an avalanche while skiing with CMH Revelstoke. They were part of group of eleven guests plus one guide.

The incident happened just after 1:30 p.m. in the Holyk Creek Drainage area 32 kilometres southeast of Revelstoke. One of the skiers triggered a class 2.5 avalanche. The slide was about 75 metres wide and ran for approximately 250 metres. Four people, including the sole guide, were caught in the avalanche.

RCMP regional spokesperson Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said three of those caught in the avalanche were partially buried, while the deceased man was completely buried. The three soon dug themselves out or were assisted, while the fourth was unresponsive when he was eventually located by avalanche transceiver.

Marty von Neudegg is a Director of Corporate Services with CMH. He’s based in Banff. He told the Times Review that Sheardown was buried for about 10 to 14 minutes.

He said the eleven guests plus one guide is a standard configuration. CMH doesn’t typically use a tail guide.

Von Neudegg said the other eight guests assisted with the rescue. All guests carry a shovel, probe, transceiver and a radio and receive some training on their use. The guide assisted and radioed for assistance. A total of five helicopters and 10 guides were involved in the rescue effort.

One of the members of the party was a physician and assisted immediately with medical aid for Sheardown. Von Neudegg said he didn’t know if Sheardown died from traumatic forces caused by the slide, suffocation or another cause. He added he wouldn’t comment on those details if he did know.

Sheardown was pronounced dead at Queen Victoria Hospital in Revelstoke that afternoon. The other guests were evacuated without incident.

The avalanche rating was ‘high’ in the alpine that day, and ‘considerable’ at lower elevations. The avalanche fracture line occurred at an elevation of about 1,850 metres on a slope with a southeast aspect. Von Neudegg said the slope where it occurred is known as the ‘Selkirk’ run. He described it as a moderate slope.

Von Neudegg explained that heli-ski guides in Revelstoke can choose from 200 to 300 runs in the area, and vary them according to conditions. They favour runs with lower avalanche danger when avalanche risk is high. All five CMH Revelstoke guides meet each morning to assess conditions and choose runs.

“We go through the whole list of runs and we close some terrain and we open some terrain, but the decisions are made unanimously by the team of guides in Revelstoke,” von Neudegg said. “Many runs would have been closed,” he said of the Dec. 30 conditions.

In a statement released on their website, CMH expressed sorrow about the incident: “At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim,” it wrote. “The thousands of guests who ski with us each winter are like our family. It is impossible to put into words the sorrow that we feel and the sorrow that is shared by our guests, their families and all of our staff.”

Von Neudegg stressed CMH Revelstoke’s longstanding safety record. The company has been operating here for 38 years. This was their first avalanche-related death. In their 48 years of operations, the company has had 11 avalanche fatalities at their operations in B.C. and Alberta.

Although heli-skiing is inherently risky, von Neudegg stressed it isn’t a daredevil enterprise. “We’re not in the extreme skiing business,” he said. “We’re in the wilderness experience business. Our guides are like anybody else; they’re mothers and they’re fathers and they’re wives and they want to go home to their families at the end of the day just like anybody else.

“Our primary goal is to give people a really good wilderness experience and then to go home at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s not to push the envelope and not to push hard and not to do things that are on the edge, and that’s why we’ve been able to do that for 38 years in Revelstoke without one of these things happening.” Von Neudegg said the Revelstoke operation takes out about 44 guests each day in the winter.

Greg Sheardown was originally from Stouffville, Ontario and resided in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

According to Emirates 24/7, he leaves behind his wife of 20 years and three sons aged 10, 12 and 15. He worked for Paris-based construction materials company Lafarge and had recently moved to Dubai from Cairo, Egypt.

Revelstoke RCMP and the BC Coroners Service are investigating the incident.

The following story is our Dec. 31 update on the event. Our original breaking news story follows at the bottom:

UPDATE: Victim of heli-skiing avalanche identified

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – BC RCMP and Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) have provided more information on a Dec. 30 heli-skiing avalanche death near Revelstoke.

RCMP confirmed a 45-year-old Canadian man died after four people in a group of eleven skiers plus one guide were caught in an avalanche while skiing with CMH Revelstoke.

On Jan. 1, RCMP identified the victim as Ronald Greg Sheardown, originally from Stouffville, Ontario. Sheardown was a resident of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The incident happened just after 1:30 p.m. at a heli-skiing area 32 kilometres southeast of Revelstoke. A skier triggered a class 2.5 avalanche that was about 75 metres wide and ran for approximately 250 metres.

BC RCMP regional spokesperson Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said three of those caught in the avalanche were partially buried, while the deceased man was completely buried. The three were soon rescued, while the fourth was unresponsive when he was eventually located by avalanche tranceiver.

CMH staff along with two physicians attended the scene via helicopter to provide emergency medical aid, but were unable to revive the man. He was pronounced dead at Queen Victoria Hospital in Revelstoke.

The other skiers were eventually flown off the mountain without further incident.

RCMP said the incident occurred on the "Selkirk" run in the Holyk Creek Drainage area. The avalanche fracture line occurred at an elevation of about 1,850 metres on a slope with a southeast aspect.

Revelstoke RCMP and the BC Coroners Service are investigating the incident.

In a statement released on their website, CMH expressed sorrow about the incident: "At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim," it wrote. "The thousands of guests who ski with us each winter are like our family. It is impossible to put into words the sorrow that we feel and the sorrow that is shared by our guests, their families and all of our staff."

They said five helicopters and 10 guides were involved in the rescue attempt.

The following breaking news story was published at about 12 a.m. on Dec. 31:

Heli-skier dies in avalanche near Revelstoke

The RCMP have confirmed that a heli-skier died in an avalanche near Revelstoke on Friday, Dec. 30.

Regional RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Dan Moskaluk confirmed basic details to the Revelstoke Times Review in a telephone interview late Friday night. He said the RCMP would be providing a general media release on Saturday morning.

He said a male skier on a heli-skiing excursion died in a human-triggered avalanche at a location approximately 35 kilometres southeast of Revelstoke. The victim was one of four people buried in the avalanche. Cpl. Moskaluk did confirm the victim was not from the Revelstoke area.

The unfolding incident was monitored on radio scanner by Times Review staff on the local Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) radio frequency.

Just after 1:30 p.m., heli-ski guides were overheard conducting what sounded like a post-avalanche rescue. A guide could be heard directing an avalanche field search.

The radio communications spanned the next hour. They appeared to focus on one individual in medical distress.

More than one helicopter and other road vehicles were involved in ferrying about a dozen guests away from the scene to staging areas. The communications included head counts and logistical arrangements for guests, but focused on arranging medical attention and an ambulance for one individual.

The Times Review telephoned CMH for comment early Friday afternoon but they were not immediately available for comment.

The Revelstoke Times Review will update this story on Saturday.

Cpl. Moskaluk described the location as the "Hollyk Creek" area of the "Selkirk Run." The Times Review has been unable to find online references to either location at this hour.

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