3 snowmobilers killed in B.C. avalanches

Two Alberta snowmobilers and one from B.C. were killed in two separate avalanches in B.C. on Monday.

Twelve of 13 people killed in B.C. avalanches this winter have been snowmobilers

Two snowmobilers were killed in an avalanche near Blue River, B.C., on Monday, officials have confirmed. (Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium/AP)

Recent heavy snowfalls turned deadly for three snowmobilers in the backcountry of B.C. earlier this week.

On Tuesday, officials confirmed two Alberta snowmobilers died Monday in an avalanche near an unnamed peak about 30 kilometres southwest of Blue River.

Five other snowmobilers in the group survived the incident near Wells Grey Provincial Park and were able to dig the men out, but efforts to revive them failed.

Search and rescue officials and an RCMP helicopter helped recover the bodies on Tuesday. Neither the names of the men nor their hometowns in Alberta have been released.

Castlegar man killed

Later on Tuesday, the body of another snowmobiler was found near Mount Mackie, west of Castlegar, in B.C.'s southern Interior.

The search was launched after the man failed to return home on Monday from a solo trip. His family and friends launched their own search and found his snowmobile near a debris path, indicating there had been an avalanche.

Searchers later recovered the body of the 45-year-old local man near the site. His name was not released.

Meanwhile, in a third search west of Radium Hot Springs, near the Alberta border, two overdue snowmobilers were located safe and sound by the Columbia Valley Search and Rescue team.

The two men were spending a weekend in a cabin about 50 kilometres west of Radium Hot Springs, in an area known as the Forster Creek drainage, and failed to return home as scheduled on Sunday or Monday.

Fatal season

Thirteen people have been killed in avalanches in Canada since early December. All but one of the deaths were snowmobilers, raising questions about the awareness of some snowmobilers about avalanche safety. All the deaths have been in B.C.

Avalanche Canada forecaster Ilya Storm says part of the reason so many snowmobilers are getting caught in avalanches is that newer high-performance machines are making snowmobiling one of the fastest growing backcountry sports. 

The new machines allow even novice operators to travel great distances in the backcountry at tremendous speeds, says Storm.

That means as they traverse a wide range of variable terrain they have to be able to quickly make a large number of decisions when compared with other slower backcountry users such as skiers, he says.

"Even a poor riders can get into some complex terrain really quickly," he says.

Continuous training

The solution, Storm says, is along with their riding skills, snowmobilers should also seek to continually improve their avalanche assessment skills with ongoing training.

"Just taking a weekend course is not enough. You have to keep learning every year and keep trying to improve."

But while the Avalanche Canada trains more than 7,000 people a year with weekend courses, only about 10 per cent of those people are snowmobilers, he notes.

Despite the deadly toll, the number of people killed in avalanches in Canada has been declining in recent years.

The last five full years on record saw an average of 9.8 fatalities per year. But for the five years before that, the average was 14.2, and the five before that saw an average of 15 people killed by avalanches annually.

Google Maps: avalanche deaths 2015/2016

With files from Farrah Merali, Doug Hebert, David French, Bob Keating and The Canadian Press