Revelstoke resident Evan Donald died on Feb. 23 as a result of a snowboarding incident the day before.
Donald, 23, was on a snowboarding excursion with Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), riding at the High Roller site near Revelstoke.
The excursion was one of the perks of his job at the Regent Inn, a local partner with the regional heli-skiing company. Employees are offered free rides when spare seats are available.
The exact cause of Evan’s death remains unknown, though several people interviewed speculated the incident was the result of suffocation resulting from a head-first fall into a tree well.
Banff-based CMH director Marty von Neudegg said Donald was with a group of 11, plus one guide. They were on their fourth run when Donald didn’t arrive for a regrouping at the bottom.
Staff used a beacon to locate Donald, pulling him from a tree-well he had fallen into head-first. Von Neudegg said Donald was breathing but not conscious.
Staff administered first aid, assisted by a doctor who was a guest with the skiing party.
They transported him via helicopter to an awaiting ambulance, then to hospital in Revelstoke.
Von Neudegg said Donald didn’t regain consciousness while in CMH’s care. Donald was later transported to hospital in Kamloops where he died on Feb. 23.
“Evan was a young man who definitely had mountain experience. He’d been out a few times with us this winter,” said von Neudegg. “He was always a pleasure to have in the groups.
“He’s going to be missed by a lot of people, including his co-workers at the Regent and our staff who worked really hard to try and save him,” he said. “Our thoughts go out to the family, more than anything.”
Tree wells are a common and sometimes deadly hazard, especially in deep snow.
Skiers and boarders can easily fall into the void created below a tree’s branches. Once caught inside, it can be extremely difficult or impossible to get out without assistance. Trapped people can suffocate in the snow, often in a short period of time.
Von Neudegg said rescuers arrived to assist Donald in “minutes,” but it was too late.
There are many precautions people can take to minimize their risks and anyone recreating in snow amongst the trees should familiarize themselves with the hazards and precautions.
Von Neudegg said every guest with CMH gets training sessions and demonstrations explaining the hazards of tree wells.
Family mourns loss of young man who lived for the mountain lifestyle
Evan’s older brother Trevor Donald contacted the Times Review from China, where he works.
He said Evan lived for the winter mountain lifestyle. “He had a dream where it was always winter,” said Trevor. The brothers hadn’t seen each other for a couple of years, but were planning an upcoming snowboarding trip to Chile to see if they could make the dream come true.
They grew up in the small town of Sackville, New Brunswick, but Evan’s heart was always in the mountains.
He lived for mountain adventure. “All winter he would be at the ski hill and all summer he would be mountain biking,” Trevor said of Evan’s teenage years.
Evan even built wooden ramps through the trees to simulate that downhill experience in an otherwise mountain-less landscape.
After high school, he came out west to fulfill his mountain dreams. He lived in Revelstoke for about three years, working in restaurants, silviculture, construction and fruit picking. The work was a means to snowboarding.
Along the way, he made many friends in town. “His character was a local character,” said Trevor. His brother made and inspired friends no matter where he was: “He was a local person wherever he went.”
Trevor said Evan was an experienced backcountry rider. He used splitboards to tour the backcountry, and had taken avalanche safety courses. He insisted on riding with other experienced, trained companions. Trevor believed Evan would have been well aware of the dangers of tree wells.
His friends also said Trevor lived for the mountains. “He loved the outdoors. That’s all he did,” said roommate Rick Gould. “Every morning he got up to go snowboarding. He was either out snowboarding or out snowmobiling. Ever since the first snowfall he was gone.”
“He just lived his life to the fullest. People envied that,” said brother Trevor. “They loved him for it. He was a beautiful person.”
Trevor Donald said the family understands the risky nature of Evan’s lifestyle. Trevor didn’t have any outright concerns about the incident, but was looking to follow up on some things, focusing on initial response, training, and the timing of the ambulance transfer to Kamloops. He understood there was a delay with that transfer.
He said CMH had been very helpful so far.
An informal service is planned for Sackville.
Coroner Tim Loader of the BC Coroners Service said the investigation into the incident is ongoing, and that an autopsy was scheduled for Feb. 28. He could not confirm the death was attributable to a tree-well suffocation, saying an impact with the tree could have been a contributing factor.
If the incident proves to be a tree-well death, sometimes called a Non-Avalanche Related Snow Immersion Death, it will be the seventh one in North America this season, according to media reports. The U.S. annual average is said to be about 3.5 deaths a year, though incidents spike during heavy snow seasons.
Tree-well entrapments can happen quickly, even if you are prepared. Skiers and boarders riding amongst the trees can lose balance, snag a hidden branch, have equipment failure, amongst many other contributing causes.
Revelstoke RCMP were not available for comment, and the Interior Health Authority declined to comment citing confidentiality rules.
Von Neudegg said the incident was the only fatality at CMH operations in B.C. this season.