The bodies of three Alberta snowmobilers killed in an avalanche north of Golden, B.C., have been recovered.

Four snowmobilers — two men and their adult sons — were buried late Saturday afternoon in what witnesses described as a massive slide on Mount Gerald in eastern British Columbia, RCMP say.

The Mounties said it appears the avalanche was triggered when the snowmobilers were high-marking — gunning their machines to see how high they could make it up the mountain.

They had an emergency beacon, police said, which alerted rescue crews.

Other snowmobilers were nearby at the time of the avalanche. They managed to uncover all four who had been buried, but only one was found alive.

The victims were located Saturday, but crews were unable to pull them off the mountain because of darkness. The bodies were recovered Sunday afternoon.

The victims were identified as Andy Gebhardt, his son Jarrett Gebhardt, and Norbert Mueller. The survivor has been identified as Travis Mueller, Norbert Mueller's son. All four snowmobilers came from the Donalda, Alta., area.

'It's a tragic loss'

mount gerald, bcMount Gerald, B.C.

Former Donalda mayor Terry Nordahl said the loss will be hard on the small town of fewer than 300 people.

"It's been, I guess, on the lips of everybody since early [Sunday] morning," she said. "It's gonna be very tough.

"A lot of the people have been here many generations so it's a close-knit community, for the best part of it, and it's going to be a really hard hit to everybody when you lose members of the community like that."

Nordahl remembered Norbert Mueller as a good person who lived life to the fullest. He and his son Travis were very close, she said.

"It's gonna be very hard for Travis. I feel bad for Travis because it's hard to lose your dad and see it happen … so he's going to have a tough time."

Andy Gebhardt, Nordahl said, leaves behind a wife and daughter. Nordahl described him as quiet and down to earth.

Jarrett was a good kid who loved to have fun, Nordahl said. 

Co-workers said the three victims all worked for Luscar Ltd. Paint Earth Mine in Forestburg, Alta.

Ross Elasser, who worked with the men, said they will be missed.

"It's terrible," Elasser said. "We're a small mine — we're only 90 people out in the pit. Everybody knows everybody and that basically took three guys right off one crew, which the crews are not very big.

"It's a tragic loss. I just can't imagine what Andy's wife is going through."

A service for the three men is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. local time at a ski hill outside Donalda.

High-marking is dangerous, police say

The avalanche risk at the time was rated considerable to moderate, according to the bulletin on the Canadian Avalanche Centre website.

RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said snowmobilers are the recreation group most likely to be killed in an avalanche, largely because of high-marking.

"If you can picture a large machine, which essentially is like a chainsaw with a large track that cuts into the snow, cuts a swath in the middle of these slopes — that area of snow that's just been cut away or been disturbed, certainly the odds are there it's going to slide down," Moskaluk said.

Canada has averaged 14 avalanche deaths a year over the past decade, according to the centre.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the avalanche happened on Mount Gerard. In fact, it happened on Mount Gerald.
    Feb 20, 2011 12:30 PM PT
With files from The Canadian Press