Blaine Penner survived an avalanche in Norns Range. Photo: Blaine Penner

West Kootenay man survives avalanche in Norns Range

Blaine Penner accidentally stepped out onto a cornice, triggering avalanche

“It’s not every day you fall off a mountain and live to tell the tale,” says Blaine Penner of the experience that left him looking death in the face on a West Kootenay mountain.

Penner headed out with friends on the morning of Feb. 5 for a day of snowmobiling in the Norns Range north of Castlegar. They drove up Lady Bird Road out of Pass Creek and spent several hours having fun on their sleds.

The experienced group had checked avalanche conditions before heading out and finding them to be “considerable” decided to stick to what they considered “safe zones.”

Shortly after 2 p.m. Penner and his friend paused for a break. Penner got off his sled and walked out to the edge of what he thought was a ridge. Turns out he was confused about the location and discovered he was actually standing on a cornice of snow.

Penner saw a crack and felt the ground beneath him shift as the cornice broke off.

“I knew it was already too late,” said Penner, so he instantly reached for the cord on his avalanche airbag.

By the time he hit the ground about 15 metres below, the airbag had fully deployed. From that point, Penner continued to ride the top of an avalanche down the mountain.

“It starts to pull me under into it and I know I’m getting buried under the snow, but I can feel my airbag popping me up,” said Penner.

“I was doing everything I could to keep my head upright.”

Eventually, Penner says he just accepted the fact that he was going to die.

“I had to fully surrender to accepting that I could go over a 1,000-foot cliff and die at any moment. I had to make peace with it.”

But Penner decided that even though he was accepting the inevitable, he was going to fight it with all his might for as long as he could. He says his brain began to process what was going on and soon his thoughts became more of a litany of scenarios — I hope I don’t land on a rock, I hope I don’t land on my head, I hope I don’t break my neck.

As he tumbled downwards, he kept fighting to keep his head up, always looking for a bit of light.

When Penner finally came to a stop, there was a moment where he thought he must have died since he had just surrendered that there was no other way the journey would end.

But then, his friend’s voice came screaming out of the radio, calling his name.

He laid back and let his mind go for just a minute.

“You are in total disbelief after going through something like that,” he said.

Penner got up, gave himself an assessment and determined that the only thing wrong with him was a charlie horse.

“I got on the radio to Nate, told him not only was I alive, but that I was completely uninjured,” said Penner.

At that point he had travelled almost 900 metres down the mountain.

Penner told his friend to bunker down — he was going to start hiking back up.

Meanwhile, a sledder from a different group had already called it a day and returned to his home around Slocan Park. But he had forgotten to turn off his radio. He overheard the commotion and conversation between Penner and his friend and offered assistance. The man named Jesse called Penner’s friends and family and Castlegar Search and Rescue was notified of the situation.

“I knew I was in danger of a second avalanche,” said Penner.

“The smartest thing to do probably would have been to sit and wait for the helicopter — but I’m not that person. I challenged myself to hike myself out of the situation that I put myself in.”

The climb to the top took him four hours and he could just see the orange glow of the sunset when he got there.

Penner says there’s some lessons to be learned from the experience and wants to share them with others.

“I made one complacent choice — if I had made two, it would have cost me my life,” says Penner.

“I kept my helmet on, I had my backpack on, I had my trigger out for my airbag, I had a charged radio.”

Penner’s message to others: buy the gear, wear your gear and know how to use it.

“Without it, I wouldn’t be here.”

Avalanchekootenay

 

Blaine Penner survived an avalanche in Norns Range. Photo: Blaine Penner

Blaine Penner survived an avalanche in Norns Range. Photo: Blaine Penner

Blaine Penner survived an avalanche in Norns Range. Photo: Blaine Penner

Blaine Penner survived an avalanche in Norns Range. Photo: Blaine Penner

Blaine Penner survived an avalanche in Norns Range. Photo: Blaine Penner

Just Posted

North Okanagan business Hytec Kohler set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Spallumcheen plant Friday, May 14. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
More than half of eligible adults in Interior Health vaccinated

Over 365,000 vaccine doses have been administered throughout the Interior Health region

New Border Bruins owner Dr. Mark Szynkaruk reps team colours with his young sons and wife Tracey. Photo courtesy of the Grand Forks Border Bruins
KIJHL’s Border Bruins sold to Grand Forks doctor

The league announced the sale Friday, May 14

Kerry Reed
West Kootenay Fishing Report: Spring fishing, the bite is on!!

Anglers having great results on Kootenay Lake and Columbia River

File photo
Paramedic training returning to Castlegar

Emergency Medical Responder and Primary Care Paramedic training to take place in Castlegar

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Dr. Steve Beerman, of Nanaimo, shows off his Dr. David Bishop Gold Medal, awarded for distinguished medical service. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Tim Miller is selling his 76-foot steel bridge from his property in Burton, B.C. The bridge originates from the railway in Revelstoke. (Contributed)
For sale: a 100-ton 19th century bridge by Arrow Lakes

Bridge is in Burton, B.C. and advertised for $40,000

Former UFV Cascades wrestling coach Arjan Singh Bhullar is now the ONE heavyweight champion after defeating Brandon Vera via TKO in round two on Saturday in Singapore. (ONE Championship)
Former UFV wrestling coach wins MMA championship

Arjan Singh Bhullar captures ONE heavyweight title, first Indian origin fighter to achieve honour

Most Read