B.C. avalanche regulations reviewed

The B.C. government is now reconsidering regulations for snowmobilers after the weekend's deadly avalanche near Revelstoke.

Police consider possibility of charges; Justin Trudeau favors unlimited access

Avalanche search experts prepare to head to the site on Sunday. ((Canadian Press))

The B.C. government is reconsidering regulations for snowmobilers after the weekend's deadly avalanche near Revelstoke.

B.C. Tourism Minister Kevin Krueger said Monday that his ministry was looking at possible changes to new regulations announced in November 2009 that were to be phased in over the next two years.

The regulations — covering all motorized off-road riding equipment such as snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles — include  new licensing and insurance requirements.

Krueger's comments came after two men were killed and more than 30 were injured when a wall of snow came down on about 200 snowmobile enthusiasts who were in the backcountry area known as Turbo Bowl for the annual Big Iron Shoot-Out snowmobile event on Saturday.

Kurtis Reynolds of Strathmore and Shay Snortland of Lacombe, both 33, were killed when the slide hit the group watching the event from the valley below the slope.

Three people remained in hospital with serious injuries Monday.

An avalanche expert will investigate what caused the massive slide, estimated to be up to 150 metres wide and 10 metres deep.

Police consider charges

Police believe everyone who was in the area has been accounted for, and they are now considering whether charges of negligence should be laid.

An overhead shot shows some of the snowmobiles involved in the avalanche near Revelstoke, B.C., on Saturday.

Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said he was particularly concerned some parents brought children as young as seven years of age to the event, despite repeated warnings from avalanche officials of the high risk of slides in the area.

One 12-year-old boy suffered a serious cut to his face after being caught in the avalanche, but it is not clear how many children were involved.

Many participants paid up to $25 to a Revelstoke snowmobile group to use trails to access the area, but the unsanctioned event was reportedly organized by a Calgary man.

Machines and debris recovered

Helicopter crews continued Monday to remove snowmobiles and debris from the hill, Moskaluk said.

A damaged snowmobile is recovered from the avalanche site. ((Canadian Press))

Having less debris on the hill would make it easier for a dog to search, but police also want to discourage people from returning to the area to reclaim their machines.

Many of the snowmobiles caught in the slide cost tens of thousands of dollars, and their owners were waiting to see if the RCMP would fly them out.

Jeremy Lefleur of Golden said he was on his $13,000 machine at the bottom of Turbo Hill when the avalanche came down and buried it in the snow.

"It's hopefully hellied out, but it could still be buried out there .… If it's gone, it's gone. At least it's not my life."

The cost of the search and rescue effort has not yet been released.

Justin Trudeau opposes regulation

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau lost his brother to a B.C. back-country avalanche, but the son of late prime minister Pierre Trudeau said Monday he opposes anything that impinges on Canadians' ability to enjoy their country's wild spaces.

"There should be absolutely no limiting access to the back country for Canadians," said Trudeau, who taught in a B.C. private school before becoming a Quebec MP.

"I think our right to go play outside in the wilderness is something that should not be the business of government."

Michel Trudeau died in 1998 when he was swept into Kokanee Lake by an avalanche while on a back-country ski excursion. His body was never found.

High-markers trigger slide: witnesses

Witnesses said Saturday's avalanche was triggered at about 3:30 p.m. PT after snowmobilers in the event began high-marking — the practice of racing up the side of the mountain to see who can go the highest.

Participant Derek Blair said many of those involved were aware of the risks.

"Definitely there was discussion. When we had gone up, we knew it was dangerous. It's a pretty extreme place for riding," said Blair.

B.C. Solicitor General Kash Heed flew over the site of the avalanche on Sunday and said it's fortunate more people weren't killed.

Heed said the provincial government is looking at ways to make the backcountry safer, but remained unwilling to impose restrictions on backcountry use. In B.C. no licence is required to operate a snowmobile.

"As we go forward we will determine what we can do to make this safer," said Heed.

Six people have been killed by avalanches this winter in B.C., but in the winter of 2008-09, 24 avalanche-related deaths were recorded on mountains in the province, making it the worst season on record.

Five of those deaths involved skiers and snowboarders. A total of 19 snowmobilers died in 11 separate avalanches. One incident, in Sparwood, B.C., claimed eight lives alone.

The British Columbia Coroners Service found that in many of the accidents, individuals involved underestimated the avalanche risk.

With files from The Canadian Press