Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Photo Submitted

This is a view from the north end of the slide. Photo courtesy CITY OF WHITEHORSE/FIRE CHIEF JASON EVERETT

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An RCMP officer (right) gets a closeup look at the slide, which brought down assorted small trees, branches and rocks. Photo courtesy YUKON GEOLOGICAL SURVEY

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Photo by Photo Submitted

This aerial photo shows how the slide obliterated part of Robert Service Way and the Millennium Trail. Photo by SARA CAMERON

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Photo by Photo Submitted

This shows the south end of the slide, including the damage to the Millennium Trail. Photo courtesy LENORE MORRIS

Snow pack, saturated soil cited as slide’s cause

The biggest local landslide in decades has closed Robert Service Way for an indeterminate amount of time.

By Tim Giilck on May 2, 2022

The biggest local landslide in decades has closed Robert Service Way for an indeterminate amount of time.

The clay banks near the eagles’ nest gave way at approximately 3 p.m. Saturday, sending a torrent of mud and debris across the road and the Millennium Trail and onto the ice on the Yukon River.

The road has been closed since, as City of Whitehorse officials try to gauge how dangerous the situation is. Work to clean up the mess won’t begin until the site is deemed safe.

A video circulating widely on social media shows a white vehicle driving through the area just ahead of the slide as the middle of the clay cliffs give way.

Whitehorse Fire Chief Jason Everitt told the Star the first calls came in to the fire department just before 3 p.m.

Crews responded immediately – ironically, on the dawn of Emergency Preparedness Week.

The area was cordoned off, and several pedestrians along the Millennium Trail were interviewed in an effort to determine if anyone might have been caught in the debris. Fortunately, it appears there were no injuries, Everitt said.

It’s not the first time there have been mudslides in the area, but it’s apparently the first time the damage has been so extensive.

Debris has reached the shoulder occasionally, Everitt noted, but he wasn’t aware of it crossing the road in such volumes.

Mayor Laura Cabott also spoke to the Star this morning about the situation.

She confirmed no cleanup work has been started as yet as the site is not safe enough to do anything.

“We have to rely on the experts,” she said.

The city is flying a landslide specialist in to provide advice. That person could arrive as soon as today.

Cabott said the city has been monitoring the cliffs along Robert Service Way for the last couple of years as the snow load has increased.

Like Everitt, she said no one she’s spoken to remembers a similar situation along Robert Service Way – just smaller slides at various locations of the escarpment.

“There were a few slides last year, but nothing like this,” the mayor said.

It could take several days, at the minimum, before the road reopens, Cabott said.

She added she appreciated the co-operation of city residents while the situation is handled.

Cabott said the city has also reached out to the Yukon government for any assistance it can provide.

Panya Lipovsky, a surficial geologist with the government, said she was a little surprised to see a landslide so early in the season.

She said a slide of similar size occurred in June 2021, coming within 90 metres of Robert Service Way. That time of year is more typical for a mudslide.

Other comparable avalanches occurred in 1949, 1953 and 2000.

The slide in 2000 occurred in the cliffs above Marwell in the Takhini area.

The current slide is noteworthy and exceptional only because it spewed across Robert Service Way, which she said “was just in its way.”

Lipovsky said the slide is almost certainly due to the saturated soil from this year’s excessive snowpack.

As most people know, the cliffs are the remnant of a glacial lake dating back to the last ice age, which ended roughly 10,000 years ago.

The clay banks represent the bottom of that lake, which has since been steadily eroded.

There are three to five metres of sand covering the clay, and landslides happen when water seeps through the sand to the clay, causing it to separate.

The city has issued several updates to the situation via its website and social media.

“The area around the recent escarpment slide, which also includes the Millennium Trail and Airport Trail, remains unstable and is considered a high-risk, active site,” the first update stated on Saturday evening. “It will be closed until further notice, and the public is instructed to avoid the area.

“Barriers and signage are in place near the Robert Service Way Roundabout and the baseball diamond.

“Bylaw Services will also be on site throughout the night. City of Whitehorse crews continue to monitor the situation, and updates will be provided as they become available.”

On Sunday, an additional update was issued.

“Commuters are advised to adjust their travel plans, and use alternate routes or modes of transportation as a result of yesterday’s escarpment slide.

“Robert Service Way, from the roundabout to Miles Canyon Road near Yukon Energy Corporation, remains closed until further notice. Affected areas of the Millennium and Airport Trails are also closed.”

The update reads, “Commuters should anticipate delays in travel time and increased traffic congestion during these closures.

“Please allow for more travel time, and consider carpooling, using transit, choosing active transportation, or working from home, if possible.”

The update also stated, “Transit service to Lobird has also been affected with Route 5 now detouring along Second and Fourth Avenue, Two Mile Hill, and Hamilton Boulevard. Passengers should expect delays.”

“Standard Bus has also been informed, and alternate routes are planned for student transportation. Today is a PD day for students, so busing wasn’t affected.

“As a reminder, the area around the slide remains unstable and is considered a high-risk, active site. The public is instructed to avoid the area.”

Several people on social media said they weren’t surprised to see a landlside occur. They wrote they had noticed movement on the cliffs in the days prior to this slide.

Up until it ceased service to Whitehorse in 1982, the White Pass and Yukon Route used a railway track paralleling the clay cliffs beside Robert Service Way.

The danger of escarpment slides has been on the city’s radar for decades.

In the 1970s, for safety reasons, it began buying out the houses of residents living at the base of the cliffs and removing them.

Comments (33)

Up 22 Down 5

Lawrence Bredy on May 5, 2022 at 11:05 am


Not in the public eye, and zero disruption to daily commute / life, no impact. Happens in nature all the time, nobody sees, and nobody knows.

Get 'er cleaned up and restore the road surface I say. We are very wrapped up in what is done in "other jurisdictions" so I'll refer the powers that be to Abbotsford and the Coc highway on how to get things done!

Up 22 Down 3

Jake on May 4, 2022 at 6:30 pm

Climate change ...... move the road.......move the airport......blame somebody......or, don't?
It is a steep, wet, clay slope, being dug at below, and kept wet from above. Who was to figure it would move now and then?
Hire some experts to cover your a** and "manage" the liability, and use media to advance your concern, and you're golden again.

Up 20 Down 5

Mitch on May 4, 2022 at 2:17 pm

@ Yukoner61 - then why has this happened 2-3 times in my life in Whitehorse? Probably because if clay gets too wet, it destabilizes. But hey, what would I know, I only have a bachelor's with a major in ceramics (yes, I was on my 20s once). I would not propose to be an expert though, I didn't fly from far enough away.

Up 22 Down 2

cliff on May 4, 2022 at 12:33 pm

@bredy, not 58 years apart. Just as much (or more) came down last year just a few hundred feet south of this location. Off the road a bit so not in the public eye.

Up 26 Down 4

CJ2 on May 4, 2022 at 12:32 pm

@Yukoner61, blaming it on climate change can only go so far. We've had record snowfalls, sure, but if it's true that snow was getting dumped in the vicinity, that paints a different picture. It's easy to believe, because it's consistent with the way the city has treated the escarpment since early days (and been criticized for it for almost the same amount of time, by the way.)

It was maddening to hear Laura Cabott blame climate change. It's a big, amorphous target, when she needs to get real about fixing a problem that wasn't inevitable. I don't want to see the mayor throw up her hands and go "Abbotsford, floods, forest fires, take the bus," when she's faced with a real world problem that needs a timely solution.

If they were serious about climate change impacting on the escarpment, they would have been taking steps to mitigate the risk. But I think we'll find it wasn't on their radar at all.

Up 6 Down 4

Dave on May 4, 2022 at 12:13 pm

The city shouldn’t make public why the slide happened and then fly in the expert.
Why wouldn’t they collaborate with this expert they are flying before coming up short with their idea why it happened????

Up 17 Down 4

so much change in 2 years on May 4, 2022 at 10:15 am

Most of Whitehorse is built on alluvial (glacial) silt. Downtown and Riverdale are on the lowest level of what was fairly recently lake bottom. Our city is in an earthquake zone. The snow came and stayed 2 weeks early in 2020 and 2021, (October 15, vs. October 31). The snow stayed 20 days longer in 2022 (our trails are usually 'out' on April 6, but we were running dogs this year on April 26.) We had record snowfall in both 2020 - 21, and 2021 - 22.

Most of these factors work against the stability of the clay cliffs. I find it a bit frightening. Then again, we watched the gulls last summer standing in water over their destroyed nests and lifeless eggs, and didn't think much of it. Will it be more tragic when we get wiped out here and there?

We've also built our nests on what we thought was a good place.

Up 23 Down 15

Yukoner61 on May 3, 2022 at 10:47 pm

@Maxmack "Please don't blame this on climate change. The degradation of the cliffs have been visible for decades"

You might have a point if this event happened by itself. But when you consider that we have melting permafrost playing havoc with roads and buildings across the territory, roofs collapsing under the weight of snow, record floods last year, apparently the possibility of flooding AGAIN this year, and now a landslide, it becomes crystal clear that these are not 'one offs'. Even looking at North America you see an increase in floods, fires etc. Look at the record fires in BC and California last year, and the year before that. Look at the floods occurring as we speak in Manitoba or the major fires that are scorching New Mexico, again, happening as we speak.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that something bigger is at play here. It has been predicted to happen for a long time, and now we are seeing it in real time. Its ridiculous to pretend this is all normal and coincidentally happening simultaneously.

Up 10 Down 2

Vern Schlimbesser on May 3, 2022 at 5:50 pm

@ Stephen
Sometimes rooted vegetation just increases the water retained and adds to the weight/load and making it more likely for the mass to fail and move down slope.
Drains penetrating deep into the bank allow some water to escape, slope reduction, and limited use of retaining get walls might be warrantwd.

Up 7 Down 11

bonanzajoe on May 3, 2022 at 4:58 pm

Edie rue. I thought you leftys would blame it on Donald Trump.

Up 28 Down 1

Austin on May 3, 2022 at 4:21 pm

My In laws bought a place near Baxter on 7th in the early 70's. Shortly after they were expropriated due to the possibility of the clay cliffs coming down. There is only one house left there now. The Government and City have known about this for years but keep building close to the clay cliffs. There are parks and neighbourhood gardens all along the clay cliffs. Just say NO to people who want to build there for this very reason. It's not rocket science, or is it?

Up 20 Down 2

Jeff Bikaboom on May 3, 2022 at 3:28 pm

@ Wilf Carter

"What takes place hydraulics movement created by adding weight to top of the clay cliffs. The new battery plant on top of the clay cliffs by end of the airport."

Are you referring to the battery site nearly 2 km away from the slide? By this logic you might as well blame the traffic on the Alaska Highway. There are many online maps available for free that you can use to see what is actually on top of the clay banks.

Up 34 Down 12

Max Mack on May 3, 2022 at 1:14 pm

When WPYR still ran trains, the escarpment was at least somewhat managed.
Since then, the cliffs have been more-or-less left to their own devices. This slide is the inevitable result.

Please don't blame this on climate change. The degradation of the cliffs have been visible for decades. CoW has simply been hoping and praying nothing would happen.

Up 20 Down 7

stephen on May 3, 2022 at 12:40 pm

I find it unbelievable that governments for the last 50 years never thought of planting blue berry bushes or black berry bushes or other vegetation to stabilize the areas on all the cliffs. Damn, we learned how to work to mitigate this in our first year geography courses at university. Flying up an "expert" to tell you how to stabilize the area and all other cliffs is a step in the right direction. I hope the person smacks you all upside the head and says you could have worked to mitigate the risk by doing xxx.

Up 28 Down 5

Dave on May 3, 2022 at 12:38 pm

If they already know what caused this slide then why are they flying in an expert?

Up 22 Down 8

Dave on May 3, 2022 at 12:36 pm

Mayor Cabbot has put on a hard hat to stand around all day staring at the pile willing it off the road.

Up 27 Down 6

CJ2 on May 3, 2022 at 11:57 am

@municipal neglect...you nailed it. The city has been increasingly casual about the escarpment, allowing rezoning with engineers' assurances that it was okay to shift the protection line, helping to create complacency around it.

Generally, I like this mayor and council, but one thing that is characterizing them is that they seem not up to what should be standard responsibilities of road maintenance. That's simply going by the snowplowing deficiencies of this winter. Now they can't commit to a timeline for re-opening the South Access? I don't get that. One thing we used to be able to count on was that keeping roads open was a priority.

I can appreciate that public officials need space to do their jobs. But they have to be honest, too. This isn't, as Cabott tries to suggest, yet another result of climate change that can't be solved in the short term. The city has to be reminded regularly to respect the escarpment zone.

Up 30 Down 18

Lawrence Bredy on May 3, 2022 at 10:10 am

One event every 58 years or so (that I am aware of)...I can live with that.
Clean it up and get the traffic moving. It should be well under way by now. Let's study it to death first though.

Up 30 Down 1

Wilf Carter on May 3, 2022 at 8:51 am

Look at the big picture you will see a large mass still hanging there that will come down.

Up 20 Down 12

Wilf Carter on May 3, 2022 at 8:50 am

Snow was a very small part of the bank on clay cliffs coming down. It was natural cause mostly because erosion of the bank over years. Digging a ditch at the bottom more likely set it off. All it takes is little change. That whole bank needs work by taking some more down and than Shoring it up. There should no bldgs. put on top of the clay cliffs like the operations building of the city with those heavy buses. What takes place hydraulics movement created by adding weight to top of the clay cliffs. The new battery plant on top of the clay cliffs by end of the airport. Those should have not been cut because it holds clay cliffs in place. Now adding 1,000 of lbs. on those clay cliffs could cause more stress on the clay cliffs.

Up 33 Down 14

BnR on May 3, 2022 at 8:42 am

Lots of outrage (like Al below) about how could the City have let this happen. Seriously?
If the CofW had proposed spending millions to mitigate landslide/slump risk along the south access, the same commenters would be howling in outrage about the City’s irresponsible spending when it’s clearly not needed
Show me anywhere where anyone has been lobbying the City to undertake this work.
People only get outraged after the fact.

Up 30 Down 3

Vern Schlimbesser on May 3, 2022 at 8:17 am

Think Haines and pause to reflect on those individuals lost there last year (?). That slide was much lower slope and isolated but following heavy rains load was too much and the limit was reached.
Difference here is no one was killed (thankfully), but it was also much more predictable.
They have been removing material every year as it migrated to the tracks and road right of way. That only delays or even increases the risk. The visible large wet areas all along this slope predict even more areas ready to go.
It will have to be drained and recon toured at least. Very expensive, but very necessary.
Any significant seismic event would also be a big trigger. That could reach as far as the airport. Of course the fire chief has thought of that. And of the proximity of the new battery too.
Just thinking out loud here.

Up 34 Down 10

AdmiralA$$ on May 3, 2022 at 8:00 am

Finally, avoided the millennium last year with all the snow cause you could see the massive shift in the soil up top. The city has known this would happen or must have since they pay so big for such genius in our system here. Loose silt loam with little veg holding it together was an obvious outcome. The city itself was constantly cleaning it off the road so of course they knew. Also a large spot let go last year 200 meters down the road, up back in the trees. Suppose too busy making safe spaces to actually make the space safe. To many virtue's to signal not enough work getting done. Now we pay city workers top dollar to guard the site like some massive nanny state. Keep up the top notch management.

Up 25 Down 12

Yukoner on May 3, 2022 at 7:28 am

Maybe having several snow dumps in the area isn't a great idea?

Up 16 Down 8

Future Politician? on May 3, 2022 at 4:05 am

Rod, so to summarize your comment what you are stating is that you have half a brain and an as****e? If so you need to run for politics as with those qualifications you’d already be head and shoulders above the rest of that crowd.

Up 21 Down 14

Roy on May 2, 2022 at 8:25 pm

No one has died in this slide so why do we need to worry? It's just dirt.
We shouldn't worry about things like this that only have a miniscule chance of harming or killing us.

I mean according to all the Star physicians in here we shouldn't address something unless it has a very high chance of harming all of us equally. I've never been in landslide....so I don't want to be inconvenienced in any way. I know my rights. I'm going to drive on this road if I want to!

Up 37 Down 1

Municipal neglect and indifference on May 2, 2022 at 7:33 pm

“ In the 1970s, for safety reasons, it began buying out the houses of residents living at the base of the cliffs and removing them.”
Please explain: 1. Why the city is selling those same lots at the end of Ogilvie when they forced a (still-living) resident to sell? 2. Why was a massive group home allowed to be built at the end of Jeckyll right against the cliffs? 3. The buyout clause for the last house going up Service Way was removed and normal title reinstated because of the lobbying of a family member. Why? 4. Why is that ridiculous “mixed use” condo being allowed right in the path of the next slide at the end of Main? Suggestion: spray some seed on those cliffs to try to mitigate.

Up 29 Down 24

Edie rue on May 2, 2022 at 7:00 pm

Definitely Trudeau’s fault. Can’t believe he did that to us, bloody liberals. Let’s all put on our tinfoil hats and protest with flags by Shipyards. That’ll show him!!

Up 31 Down 3

Idiots rule on May 2, 2022 at 6:40 pm

It’s great the city lifted the moratorium on building near the clay cliffs & also that they decided to dump unprecedented amounts of snow at the south end of the airport runway this year.

Up 60 Down 30

Rod on May 2, 2022 at 4:35 pm

Anyone with half a brain and an as****e could tell that was going to happen!

Up 40 Down 19

Nathan Living on May 2, 2022 at 3:43 pm

From my perspective, it's time to deal with the danger this area presents to road traffic and people walking the Millenium Trail.

Let's of course leave it up to experts but this is a very dangerous situation and it likely will be very costly.
I do not think anyone wants to hear about a tragic event that could have been avoided.

Up 56 Down 67

Mr Facts on May 2, 2022 at 3:11 pm

Dam Covid-19 strikes again.
If you people would just wear your dam masks this wouldn't of happened.

Up 67 Down 45

Al on May 2, 2022 at 2:48 pm

Hm, what we all knew for decades, "The danger of escarpment slides has been on the city’s radar for decades." Yes, and yet the COW did zip to mitigate the problem. This is your city at work for you. Putting their own interests ahead of it's citizens. Well, you know we just cannot afford to do anything. Right, but you were prepared to spend gobs of money on a new edifice for your kingdom.

This is what happens - you are just bloody lucky no-one was killed. Now there is one less egress out of the city. Thank you to our wonderful city big shots. Traffic Mayhem - but why do you care? Fact is you don't.

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