Coroner urges climbers to be more cautious

SKILLED CLIMBER: Jamie Vinton-Boot was killed in an avalanche at The Remarkables last August.
SKILLED CLIMBER: Jamie Vinton-Boot was killed in an avalanche at The Remarkables last August.

Climbers need to better appreciate terrain risks after a young father was killed by an avalanche at The Remarkables a year ago, a coroner says.

Expert alpinist Jamie Vinton-Boot, 30, of Christchurch, was swept off his feet and fell about 500 metres below the Queens Drive traverse on the west face of the range at 8.45am, on August 12 last year.

A 4m-wide slab avalanche dislodged about two tonnes of snow as Vinton-Boot and climbing mate Steven Fortune traversed without ropes.

Coroner David Crerar commissioned a report by climbing guide Geoffrey Wayatt, who referred to the traverse as a ''classic terrain trap''.

The climbers were not reckless but a more prudent approach, including talking to ski patrol, observing avalanche control work and considering an updated advisory, may have led to them reconsidering.

Fortune told the coroner the pair discussed potential avalanche hazards but they ''switched off'' on the ski field access route and were complacent.

A back country advisory for the day before was ''low to moderate'' avalanche danger but on August 12 the advisory was upgraded to ''moderate to considerable''. The climbers were unaware of the updated advice.

Wayatt suggested roping in - belaying - could have been appropriate but it was reasonable to do without ropes in the prevailing snow conditions.

''[In Wayatt's opinion] they appeared unaware of, or they ignored, the possibility of the significant avalanche danger. They did not fully consider the new snowfall, steep access terrain and avalanche implications.''

The coroner said the slope was well within the capabilities of both men but the risk created by the steep traverse raised the possibility of a significant outcome.

''It was probable that any slip or fall... could have fatal outcomes and they ought to have mitigated the risk. An obvious method to mitigate the risk would have been the use of their rope and their belaying.''

Roping and belaying would have caused a delay across the avalanche prone sections of the route and the return but these were actions they ought to have taken, he said.

''Climbers of the ability and experience of Jamie and Steven must not be fettered by the need for them to adhere to the rules.''

Crerar recommended climbers were encouraged to increase awareness of avalanche terrain and observe best practice by carrying beacons, probes and shovels. He noted Vinton-Boot was carrying a beacon but in the circumstances this would not have prevented his death.

The Southland Times