Avalanche warnings limited deaths: RCMP

Hundreds of snowmobilers likely heeded avalanche warnings and stayed away from a B.C. backcountry event that killed two people on the weekend, according to snowmobilers and police.

Hundreds of snowmobilers likely heeded avalanche warnings and stayed away from a B.C. backcountry event that killed two people on the weekend, according to snowmobilers and police.

On Saturday, a huge avalanche plowed down a mountainside near Revelstoke, straight into 200 snowmobilers and spectators gathered below for the Big Iron Shootout.

Two men were killed and 31 people were injured, and dozens narrowly escaped death or injury when the slide, which was triggered by competitors racing up a steep hill, hit the group.

But local snowmobilers and the RCMP say it could have been much worse. In previous years, there were thousands at the annual event, according to snowmobiler Phil LaFleur from Golden, B.C.

"When I came in 2006 there was, like, 3,500 people here," said LaFleur.  

Warnings heeded

But this year the Canadian Avalanche Centre issued warning of highly dangerous avalanche conditions in the area weeks in advance, and even issued a special warning to backcountry users just days before the event.

Many snowmobilers stayed away after hearing those warnings, LaFleur believes.

"It was probably avalanche conditions that kept people away," he said.

RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk agrees many in the snowmobiling community appear to have heeded the warnings.

"Certain comments have been made that people aren't listening to the bulletins. Well, it might very well be that the only reason that we only had 200 people up there —and not 1,000 — is because 80 per cent of the population of snowmobile enthusiasts did realize the high risk," said Moskaluk.

Too dangerous

Les Auston, general manager of the B.C. Snowmobile Federation and resident of Revelstoke, said the whole situation was just too dangerous for him.

"No, I personally wouldn't have been there. I mean, you can go riding lots of places in a mountain without having to go into avalanche zones or places where avalanches can occur," said Auston.

But many of the sledders caught in the avalanche were not from B.C. and may not have been aware of the warnings. The two men killed, Shay Snortland and Kurtis Reynolds, were visiting from Alberta.

Snortland's widow, Janine, said her husband likely was not properly aware of the avalanche risk, and she says organizers should have cancelled the event.

"You know, the locals knew what was going on, [but] these are Alberta boys. They've never seen an avalanche," she said Monday.

B.C. Solicitor General Kash Heed said the province is considering new regulations for snowmobile use in backcountry areas by November 2011.