Tragic Avalanche In Canada’s British Columbia Takes Lives Of Five Snowmobile Riders

An avalanche in Canada’s British Columbia has ended in tragedy with five snowmobile riders that found themselves in the avalanche’s path unable to escape and losing their lives.

The snowmobile riders were on an afternoon trip through the Canadian Rocky Mountains, reports CNN, when the deadly avalanche swept down over the five with a massive wall of snow, sweeping them away.

The snowmobile riders that were killed in the avalanche were all reportedly residents of Alberta, Canada, and identified as Vincent Eugene Loewen, 52, from Vegreville; Tony Christopher Greenwood, 41, of Grand Prairie County; Ricky Robinson, 55, from Spruce Grove; Todd William Chisholm, 47, of St. Albert; and John Harold Garley, 49, of Stony Plain.

The five snowmobile riders were reportedly out with at least four other groups of snowmobilers, riding in the mountainous back country near McBride, British Columbia, before the avalanche let loose and caught them at about 1:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday.

Royal Canadian Mounted police report that two snowmobile riders were able to activate avalanche rescue beacons, a common tool for back country adventurers, which alerted authorities to the emergency but still wasn’t enough to save the five that lost their lives.

Avalanche rescue
A powerful avalanche can be overwhelming and impossible to survive, even with proper preparation and avalanche rescue training. [Image by Cylonphoto/Shutterstock]

The first to arrive at what turned out to be a tragic avalanche scene were two search-and-rescue professionals who were also snowmobiling in the area, and reportedly arrived “on scene almost immediately.” Their being quickly on scene in the wake of the avalanche allowed them to rescue several other avalanche victims from the other snowmobiling groups, providing some good news in the shadow of the five tragic deaths.

Six of the avalanche survivors were transported to the hospital where all were treated and released.

While officials have yet to identify a cause of the deadly avalanche, another snowmobile rider in the area, Rod Whelpton, said the avalanche was massive and stretched across the slope to be about 700 meters wide.

While Whelpton told reporters that he went out snowmobiling Friday feeling that the area was relatively safe, he also recalled to reporters that the avalanche risk level was listed as “considerable,” which falls about the middle of the danger scale.

Regardless, Whelpton didn’t seem to expect the day to unfold into an avalanche snowmobile tragedy that would claim the lives of five fellow riders, the snowmobile rider saying, “I went in believing it was a very safe, good area. It was very much a normal day, a nice day.”

Peaceful mountains
Avalanches pose great danger in the snowy backcountry, even in what might appear as pristine and peaceful conditions. [Image by Lizard/Shutterstock]

Avalanches can be triggered in a number of ways, including by people stumbling or adventuring into an avalanche-prone area, or mountain conditions coalescing to unleash an avalanche naturally. According to authorities the “very large, significant” avalanche that occurred on Friday near the town of McBride, which is about 450 miles northeast of Vancouver, may have been a result of both human and natural ocurrences.

According to Avalanche Canada‘s warning service manager, Karl Klassen, while Friday’s deadly avalanche “appears to be human-triggered,” he believes weather and snow conditions were also a factor.

“There are layers of concern in the snowpack in many parts of this region (and others),” wrote Klassen on the Avalanche Canada website. “And a fairly significant weather event added ran and snow to the snowpack over the last few days, followed by clearing and cooling. This may have produced stresses in the snowpack capable of producing large avalanches and this condition could take several days to settle and bond. Please be cautious this weekend.”

Another Avalanche Canada member named Clayton said that Friday’s deadly avalanche was particularly noteworthy because it killed five people at the same time. The tragedy is unusual also because avalanche deaths in Canada have been trending down, particularly because of people taking safety precautions and being prepared.

“When you have a lot of people killed in one incident, it can tell you a lot of things,” said Clayton. “A lot of people were clustered together. A lot of people were exposed to hazards at the same time.”

Despite avalanche deaths in Canada being on the decline, the five lost lives on Friday are a reminder that avalanches in the Canadian back country do claim an average of 12 lives per year, the majority of those deaths being men caught in avalanches in British Columbia and nearby Alberta.

Snowmobiling, skiing, and heli-skiing make up the majority of activities people are participating in when killed by an avalanche, with 41 percent of Canadian avalanche deaths being snowmobile riders, 34 percent being skiers, and 13.5 percent being skiers using helicopters as their lift into the high mountainous back country where often uncontrolled avalanche dangers can pose particular risk.

[Photo by Bill Schaefer/Getty Images]