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Avalanche shocks private Ontario ski club on Sunday


January 5, 2020 – An avalanche shocks Craigleith Ski Club in The Blue Mountains. It took place Sunday afternoon on the club’s Millennium black diamond run when a large portion snow on the steep crest of the run separated and slid down the hill creating an avalanche effect for about 40 feet.

Jeff Courtemanche, General Manager at Craigleith Ski Club explains, “evidence that the hill may slide were noticeable Saturday morning and the hill was closed as a safety precaution.

“The slide starts as a crack across the hill, the weight of the snow combined with no adhesion to the ground allowed it to fall and slide. Sunday morning there was a 4-foot wide crack that slid to approximately 40 feet by 9 am. Because several runs in our V-Hill area are steep and snow covered we closed the entire area as a precaution,” said Courtemanche.

“The snow slide at Craigleith Ski Club was repaired on Monday and the hill will be skiable for the weekend,” assures Courtemanche. “Snow slides like this are common in the Collingwood area especially on the steeper hills with man-made snow.”

Luckily, no one was hurt as the run was already closed out of concern for the conditions.

Courtemanche also pointed out that Craigleith’s success in snowmaking was also their downfall in this case, as all the other ski areas were not able to have their steep runs covered with snow and as such would have no risk of a slide.

Snow slides are have happened before in the Collingwood area as “Blue Mountain Resort, Alpine and Georgian Peaks have all had them,” says Courtemanche. “Craigleith has had them in the past, and they are usually fixed within a day. Not that common, but as snowmaking improves in early season the risk of it happening increases. as I said earlier if you have no snow then you have no risk.”

By definition on the UBC Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences website, an avalanche begins when a layer in the snowpack becomes overloaded and fails. The two typical ingredients are: (1) a pre-existing weak layer, and (2) a trigger. The trigger can be natural (like new snowfall, new wind-deposited snow, or a rapid temperature change), or human (a skier/snowboarder/snowmobiler adding weight). In most slides where a person is caught or killed, they or someone in their party are the trigger.

But the one that occurred at Craigleith is possibly a less common variety that the UBC EOAS department refers to as a wet slab avalanche. According to UBC, the slab release results from meltwater or rain percolating through the snowpack, and a pre-existing weak layer becomes wet enough that its bonds lose strength and fail. Wet slabs most often occur in the springtime when the snowpack experiences, for the first time all season, several nights in a row above freezing temperatures.

About Craigleith Ski Club

Established in 1958, Craigleith Ski Club is a private ski club located in the heart of The Blue Mountains, Ontario. In winter, 32 picturesque groomed runs in a variety of terrain are complemented by snowshoe trails and a vibrant social calendar. Summer activities include tennis courts and swimming pool nestled at the base of the hill in a spectacular setting.

Feature photo by Nancy Harvey

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