B.C. mountains deadly for Edmonton-area snowmobilers

A disproportionate number of snowmobilers from the Edmonton region have died in avalanches in B.C., prompting safety officials to remind local riders to exercise extreme caution.

"There is a significant cluster of people an area around Edmonton that seem to be dying at a greater rate than other locations," said Karl Klassen, Avalanche Canada's warning service manager in Revelstoke, B.C.

"For some reason, people in this area are making decisions that put them at risk."

A new report from Avalanche Canada says 45 people were killed in avalanches in the past five years; 24 of them while snowmobiling.

While all of the snowmobiling deaths in the past five years occurred in B.C.; two-thirds of the victims were Alberta residents.

Of those victims, 73 per cent lived within 150 kilometres of Edmonton.

"Unlike other user groups, snowmobiling avalanche fatalities are showing a clear pattern," said Gilles Valade, executive director of Avalanche Canada, in a statement.

"When we see such a cluster in terms of place of residence, it raises a concern that our safety messages aren't reaching the people who clearly need it most."

March is considered the deadliest time for avalanche fatalities in B.C. With the deadly trend showing no signs of slowing, safety officials are focusing their efforts on Alberta sledders.

'There is a significant cluster'

"We have a pretty weak snow pack in the mountains right now," Klassen said.

One of the most recent avalanche victims is Joshuah Bradshaw, 27. The Edmonton man was killed in an avalanche near Valemount, B.C. on Dec. 30th. 

In January of last year, five Alberta men died when the group they were riding with triggered a deluge of ice and snow on a mountain range east of McBride, B.C.

The number of avalanche deaths each year has varied greatly, ranging from five in the winter of 2012/13 to 29 in 2002/03.

Klassen is urging more riders to take the Avalanche Skills Training course, where they learn how to self-rescue and navigate safely in the backcountry.

"It's great fun to be in the mountains and we want people to have a great time, but we also want people to make an informed decision about risk and you can't do that if you don't have training." 

Curtis Pawliuk is general manager of the Valemount and Area Recreation District, a popular snowmobiling destination for Alberta riders.

He recommends sledders check the conditions forecast regularly and come prepared with an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel.

"Far too often we see terrain choices that simply do not fit the conditions," said Pawliuk.

"These people are getting lucky. While the snowmobile community has come a long way, we need to start seeing greater buy-in and respect for the hazards of the backcountry."