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

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

Kootenay man survives avalanche and lives to tell the tale

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 2:00 p.m. Penner and his friend paused for a break and 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 50 feet 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 1000-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 3000 feet 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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

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

Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty chairs an opioid crisis working group pushing for policies to stop the flow of illicit drugs in Canada. (Victoria Police Department photo)
‘The opioid crisis impacts all of us’: Cariboo Prince Geroge MP Todd Doherty

Todd Doherty is co-chair of Conservative Party caucus opioid crisis working group

SIMPSON: The role of local government is changing

Mayor Bob Simpson outlines what mandate creep means for Quesnel

Researchers in B.C. say earlier than usual return of bats or dead bats can indicate trouble, such as signs of white-nose syndrome. (Cathy Koot photo)
Public help is essential for monitoring for bat disease

Anyone finding a dead bat is asked to report it to the BC Community Bat Program

In this Nov. 21, 2019 file photo, Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduces the Cybertruck at Tesla’s design studio in Hawthorne, Calif. The much-hyped unveil of Tesla’s electric pickup truck went off script Thursday night when supposedly unbreakable window glass shattered twice when hit with a large metal ball. The failed stunt, which ranks high on the list of embarrassing auto industry rollouts, came just after Musk bragged about the strength of “Tesla Armor Glass” on the wedge-shaped “Cybertruck.” (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)
FOREST INK: Electric vehicles the future, not present of industry

Jim Hilton looks at where electric vehicles need to go

Cassidy Dankochik joined the Observer’s staff in Aug. of 2020 by way of Gimli, Altona, and Flin Flon, Manitoba. (Photo by Tracey Roberts)
EDITOR’S COLUMN: Optimism at council

Cassidy Dankochik enjoyed the news from the City of Quesnel’s most recent meeting

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

(Black Press file photo)
Child in critical condition, homicide investigators probe incident near Agassiz

The child was transported to hospital but is not expected to survive

Sewage plant in Lower Mainland, operated by Metro Vancouver. (Metro Vancouver screenshot)
‘Poop tracker’ launches as researchers test Lower Mainland sewage water for COVID-19

‘Studying the virus in wastewater allows researchers to look at an entire population…’

(Pxhere)
Compensation fund opens for B.C. students negatively affected by incorrect exam marks

Marks for 2019 provincial exams were incorrectly tabulated

The humanoid sensing robot has a 3D printed finger cap that measures oxygen levels. (Dr. Woo Soo Kim)
Medical care robots being made with 3D origami in B.C. lab

Would you let a robot take your temperature?

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell gets acquainted with Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird’s 10-month-old daughter Sophia, husband Steve and four-year-old Amy at the B.C. legislature before a ceremony to endorse the Tsawwassen Treaty, Oct. 15, 2007. (Sharon Tiffin/Black Press)
Indigenous consent must come first and last for B.C. industrial projects

UN declaration seen as end to a history of horror stories

FILE  - In this Friday, Jan 1, 2021 file photo, a lorry driver's documents are scanned on a phone as he passes a checkpoint for the train through the Eurotunnel link with Europe in Folkestone, England. One month after Britain made a New Year split from the European Union's economic embrace, businesses that once traded freely are getting used to frustrating checks, delays and red tape. Meat exporters say shipments have rotted in trucks awaiting European health checks. Scottish fishermen have protested at Parliament over the catch they can no longer sell to the continent because of byzantine new paperwork. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)
FINLAYSON: Government should focus on strengthening B.C.’s leading export industries

To revive the economy, this piece in the strategy is integral, writes Jock Finlayson

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

Weather Network is forecasting a slower than average start to spring in British Columbia

Most Read