The president of a heli-skiing operation says he and his staff are heartbroken after an avalanche killed three people and injured four others in southeastern British Columbia.
Tom Brinkerhoff, president of RK Heliski, told the media on Thursday it was the “saddest day ever,” saying guests and guides who ski with them each season are part of their family.
Brinkerhoff said they “are heartbroken about the incident” Wednesday that swept away 10 skiers in B.C.’s backcountry.
“It is impossible to put into words the sorrow that we feel and the sadness that is shared by our guests, their families and all of our staff,” said Brinkerhoff, adding that their prayers and thoughts go out to everyone involved and their loved ones.
RCMP said the group was swept away by the avalanche not far from the Panorama Mountain Resort, about 150 kilometres southwest of Banff, Alta.
Cpl. James Grandy said everyone in the group has been accounted for, with four injured who were expected to recover.
He said all the skiers except the guide were from outside Canada, but he did not release the names of their hometowns.
Forecasters have warned the conditions on B.C.’s backcountry this season are extremely dangerous. The latest deaths bring the number of those killed in British Columbia avalanches this season to 12.
Graham Holt, the general manager at RK Heliski, said the guide injured in the avalanche is “in stable condition and is being well looked after.”
Avalanche Canada said the slide was a size three avalanche, large enough to “bury and destroy a car, damage a truck, destroy a building and break trees.”
A dangerous snowpack structure exists in the B.C. Interior that can produce large, human-triggered avalanches, said Lisa Perazzoli, the communications co-ordinator with Avalanche Canada, in a statement.
“This year’s avalanche season is plagued by a deeply buried weak layer across much of Western Canada, making it a very difficult snowpack to safely manage. The layer of concern formed in November and is buried near the base of the snowpack.”
The avalanche happened in the riding of Columbia River-Revelstoke, represented by member of the legislature Doug Clovechok.
He told the B.C. legislature on Thursday that one of those injured was a guide leading a group of international visitors skiing at the Panorama resort.
“Panorama ski patrol and local search and rescue crews carried out the effort to locate and free the victims and work with B.C. Emergency Services to get the injured to hospital.”
Clovechok said the dozen avalanche deaths this winter make it one of the worst seasons in decades in the province.
“When these tragedies occur, it shakes the entire community,” he said as his voice cracked with emotion. “And I know right now, there is deep sadness.”
He said their hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones, and those who survived the frightening event.
Clovechok added that last month, an experienced search and rescue volunteer died in a B.C. avalanche while off duty, and her teammates with Cariboo search and rescue had to carry her body out.
“Even the most experienced backcountry skier can encounter trouble. It’s vital that people check the warnings, carry the right gear and be mindful of the dangers that come out there.”
Susan Clovechok, Doug Clovechok’s spouse and an area director with the Regional District of East Kootenay, said she received confirmation Wednesday that there were 10 international guests caught in the avalanche.
Clovechok said she knows the skiers are all foreign nationals, but there is no official confirmation from the RCMP about their nationalities.
She said she had spent a lot of time since the avalanche phoning people whose relatives were involved in the tragedy to let them know that they are here to support them.
This is the sixth deadly avalanche in B.C. since the season started in November.
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