At least 3 snowmobilers dead in Canadian avalanche |

At least 3 snowmobilers dead in Canadian avalanche

REVELSTOKE, British Columbia – An avalanche struck a rally of up to 200 snowmobilers in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, killing at least three people and leaving an unknown number missing, police said.

Rescuers scoured remote Boulder Mountain until after darkness fell Saturday night. The search was called off until daybreak Sunday. Police conducted a door-to-door search of hotel rooms early Sunday morning to try and determine how many people are missing.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said a dozen people were injured in the slide but up to 200 people were on the mountain at the time for the Big Iron Shoot Out, an annual informal snowmobile rally.

Four of the injured were transferred to larger hospitals due to the severity of their injuries, Cathy Renkes of Interior Health said.

“Search and Rescue and the RCMP were out on site. They’ve got most of the people off that they know of now,” Revelstoke Mayor David Raven. “The hospital’s been very, very busy tonight and the search will resume again in the morning.”

“It’s an unsanctioned, unorganized event. … The RCMP are trying now to determine who was up there and how many and figure out who may be missing,” Raven said.

Raven said the Canadian Avalanche Center in Revelstoke has had a warning in effect for the last three weeks urging extreme caution in the backcountry.

“A fresh snowfall overnight exacerbated that warning. I know people have been cautioned again and again,” Raven told CTV Newsnet.

The slide struck around 3:30 p.m. local time Saturday, and search and rescue teams were called in from around British Columbia and from Calgary.

The RCMP said they did not yet have details about the three dead or the extent of the injuries. Nor did they know how many might be missing in the slide near Revelstoke, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) west of Calgary and about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of Vancouver.

“The area has been shut down to keep people out,” RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said. He said rescue efforts will continue and resources have been deployed to help in the “tragic incident.”

Search and rescue teams, including helicopters and avalanche-trained dogs, were called in from around British Columbia and Calgary to assist in the “large-scale resuce that’s being coordinated,” he said.

Kathy Berlingette, owner of Smokey Bear Campground Resort in the area, said the event was in a remote place and everyone involved had to drive their snowmobiles out to get there.

She said the slide occurred in a place called Turbo Bowl, at the foot of Boulder Mountain, and a group of people, including parents with children, had gathered to watch the snowmobiles go up the hill when the avalanche broke through.

“One fellow that I was talking to said that it resembled a war zone,” Berlingette said.

The Canadian Avalanche Center issued an avalanche warning for the region, which includes Revelstoke, for Saturday and Sunday, after a powerful storm blanketed the region with snow.

Greg Johnson, from the avalanche center, said at the time that there was danger that the snow would overload weak layers in the upper snowpack.

Adam Burke, 20, a member of the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club, said his mother and many of his friends were up on the mountain when the avalanche struck. His mother was safe, but he knew at least one family friend who was unaccounted for.

Burke said he chose not to go to the rally because of the dangerous conditions in the mountains this weekend.

“Today (Saturday) it was high risk and just the other day it was extreme,” he said. “I told everyone to shut the mountain down. … I told my mom … don’t have anything to do with this event.”

Burke said the Big Mountain Shoot Out was started by a Calgary businessman several years ago, and got bigger over the years. It has a reputation for having a party atmosphere, with many riders and onlookers gathering to watch riders perform stunts, such as high-marking, where snowmobilers compete to see who can ride their high-powered sleds the highest up a steep slope.

There have been a few avalanche deaths in the British Columbia backcountry this season but nothing compared to last winter, when there were two dozen deaths. There were 13 avalanche deaths the previous winter.

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