Writing Sample

In the Path of an Avalanche book cover
In the Path of an Avalanche
Greystone Books, 2003

Overnight the storm moved on. The skiers in Kokanee Glacier Park woke on Friday to a gloriously cold, sparkly morning. "It was a bluebird day," recalls Cal Lloyd. The two groups were almost giddy at the gift of sun shimmering on drifts of fresh powder after a week of cloudy skies and crummy visibility. Dave Heagy measured 39 centimeters of snow in the past 24 hours at the Slocan Chief cabin. At Silver Spray, Nicola recorded 31 centimeters of new snow. Temperatures were dropping. The winds were blowing strongly from the northwest. During Heagy's and Nicola's radio check that morning, they talked about the fresh snowfall and the previous day's avalanche bulletin.

The evening before, the Silver Spray group had discussed a plan for their last day in the mountains. Soon they would be back to the strains and stresses of regular life. And the luxuries, too; a bath would definitely be a good idea. But before that, the best weather and snow conditions of the entire week lay waiting for them. They'd decided they would traverse over to the forested slopes below Woodbury Mountain, an area known as the Woodbury glades. The ski runs there would be relatively safe because the slopes were less steep and the trees would help to anchor the snow. To get to those slopes, however, they would have to travel to the far side of Clover Basin, the wide, open bowl below Sunrise Mountain.

In summer, Clover Basin is a sloping, hummocky, boulder-strewn meadow rich with wildflowers and huckleberries and drained by tumbling Silver Spray creek. Hikers slogging up the steep trail from the Woodbury valley, heading for the Silver Spray cabin, emerge from the forest and traverse this subalpine basin, stopping to bask in the south-facing exposure or take in the superb views.

In winter, the bowl can be a fantastic thigh-burner of a ski run as far down as a skier is willing to climb up again. The vertical drop is several hundred metres. But Clover Basin contains some known avalanche paths, so the snowpack has to be stable to ski those lines. Today, the group wouldn't spend much time in the basin but would instead traverse across it.

Carrie Fitzsimons decided that she was not up to an energetic day of skiing and elected to stay in the cabin. Lise Nicola was also planning to stay behind, to deal with custodial chores such as cleaning the cabin, shoveling the pathway to the outhouse and stomping down the helipad with snowshoes. However, when some of the guys offered to help her with this work afterwards if she wanted to join them on the slopes, she rushed to get ready.

The skiers stuffed their lunches into their backpacks along with the usual gear for a day of skiing in the mountains. Then Driscoll, Leidal, Von Blumen, Cowan, Bradley and Nicola headed out the door to put on their skis.

What a morning! The sun was shining, and those rays felt so good. Time to dig out the sunglasses. Once set to go, the group skied towards the rim of the basin, their tracks slicing through the blanket of undisturbed whiteness. The cooler temperatures had helped to dry out the snow, and the top layer was light and fluffy. On such a morning, when the sky is the color of forget-me-nots and the snow is soft as baby powder, it's hard to believe anything could ever go wrong. Less than a minute later, the group dropped over the edge and down the side of the bowl into Clover Basin.
Photographs later developed from Driscoll's camera indicate that he probably skied down first and took photos of the others making their turns. It was common for either Driscoll or Von Blumen to be first down the slope and for the other to come down last, after watching the rest of the party descend. In the event that skiers are caught by a slide, you want someone watching where the avalanche takes them, so they can be dug out quickly. The group seems to have skied down onto a flat bench within the basin.

Back in the cabin, Carrie Fitzsimons did the dishes and read her novel.

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