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

The intersection of Melrose Street and Third Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Two pedestrians struck in Port Alberni hit and run

RCMP locate driver and vehicle, but are asking for video footage

Students from AW Neill Elementary School in Port Alberni write anti-bullying messages and draw colourful chalk art around their school for national anti-bullying Pink Shirt Day, Feb. 24, 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY LISA ARBANAS)
Chalk art brightens public walkway on Pink Shirt Day

Students from AW Neill Elementary in Port Alberni write messages of hope

Mary Mason of Owls Path Foundation presents plans for a Nuu-chah-nulth Cultural Centre to Port Alberni city council. The structure pictured in this image is the Copenhagen Opera House. (SCREENSHOT)
Nuu-chah-nulth cultural centre pitched for Port Alberni

Three possible locations put forward for multi-million-dollar centre

An endangered Vancouver Island marmot suns itself on rocks at Mount Washington, near the Comox Valley. Learn more about this endangered species with the Alberni Valley Nature Club. (PHOTO COURTESY SANDY MCRUER, AV NATURE CLUB)
Marmots, underwater mysteries part of Alberni Valley Nature Club lineup

Club kicks off membership drive with series of Zoom chats

The current exhibit at the Rollin Art Centre. The art gallery has COVID-19 protective measures in place. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
ARTS AROUND: Rollin Art Centre puts out a call to artists

Port Alberni’s Community Arts Council will hold a pandemic-inspired art exhibit

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Comox Valley RCMP raid Courtenay problem house, several arrests made

Comox Valley RCMP conducted a raid of a problem house on 20th… Continue reading

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

Most Read