Robson Gmoser, one of the best-known, most experienced and most popular mountain guides in Western Canada, was killed in an avalanche Tuesday afternoon near Sorcerer Lodge, a remote ski cabin near Golden, B.C. He was 45.
Mr. Gmoser was setting an uptrack for a skiing party the next day when the tragedy occurred. He was skiing with a practicum, a guide-in-training, who was waiting behind as Mr. Gmoser checked out a slope known locally as the Heinous Traverse, a shortcut to Mt. Iconoclast, a peak in the area. The avalanche, a large size 3 slide, was triggered at approximately 5 p.m. as Mr. Gmoser, having finished the uptrack, skied back down the slope.
Mr. Gmoser was wearing an avalanche beacon, but was buried under 1 1/2 metres of avalanche debris. The guide-in-training managed to dig him out in 30 minutes, but Mr. Gmoser could not be revived, despite the eventual additional help of a helicopter rescue squad and two doctors skiing as guests at Sorcerer Lodge, all of whom responded to a radio call from the guide-in-training.
Mr. Gmoser was well known in the skiing community in Western Canada. The son of Margaret Gmoser and the late Hans Gmoser, who founded Canadian Mountain Holidays and invented helicopter skiing, Robson Gmoser owned and operated Battle Abbey, a storied mountain lodge in the Selkirk Range. He had worked as a guide since 1985, and had been skiing since his infancy. For his 14th birthday, his mother and father let him take a two-week back-country ski trip, alone, in the middle of February, leaving on skis from the back door of their home in Harvie Heights, near Canmore. He leaves his wife Olivia and their young son, Max.
The snowpack in Western Canada this winter has been thin at lower altitudes, but was notably stable above the treeline until temperatures warmed up a few days ago. Mr. Gmoser is only the fifth avalanche casualty in Western Canada this winter; the average is normally 12 by this point in the season, according to Larry Stanier, an experienced mountain guide in the area. "There was almost no hazard up high, until it warmed up," Mr. Stanier said. "This was one of those low-probability, high-consequence events."
"There hasn't been a significant avalanche in the area since February 14," added Natalie Renner, a rescue worker in Banff. "But it just got warm. So maybe that had something to do with it." A Parks Canada avalanche report from nearby Glacier National Park listed Tuesday's avalanche danger at 2, or "moderate." The report bore a warning that "warm temperatures, high freezing levels and solar radiation will make pockets of windslab more reactive and may weaken cornices." Windslab is a cohesive layer of snow formed by steady wind deposits.
Avalanche deaths are fairly common in the Rockies most years, and are taken in stride as a known risk of back-country life. But the news of Mr. Gmoser's death has shaken the wilderness community.
"This one I find particularly bad," Mr. Stanier said. "Such a well-known guy, and such a good guide, and a member of the Gmoser family … This one seems especially unfair, with the hazard having been so low."
Mr. Gmoser broke his femur in a previous avalanche at Sorcerer Lodge several years ago, but had recovered completely. He was well known for his skill as a guide and skier, his talents as a filmmaker, his lifelong love of the mountains and his steady and characteristic laugh, which always seemed to take even him by surprise.
"He was one of those exceptional people," said Sara Renner, the Olympic medalist who is also Mr. Gmoser's cousin. "One of those people you can never get enough of."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Robson Gmoser was the fourth avalanche casualty in Western Canada this winter. In fact, he was the fifth casualty.