Rescue-recovery operation underway

As a cameraman records his statement, RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk (center) talks with reporters at a news conference about the Boulder Mountain avalanche on Sunday morning. He is flanked by (left) Karl Klassen and Greg Johnson of the Canadian Avalanche Centre. David F. Rooney/Revelstoke Current photo

By David F. Rooney

The toll from the Boulder Mountain avalanche, which roared down an alpine bowl overwhelming between 100 and 200 snowmobilers Saturday, remains at two dead and 30 injure, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said today.

“The rescue-recovery effort continues,” he told reporters at a news conference Sunday morning.

“As of 7 a.m we have two males deceased, 30 persons injured… 19 of these individuals were released, one per son is in critical condition and three individuals are in serious condition.”

Search and Rescue personnel, Parks Canada avalanche technicians reconnoitered the area by air early Sunday morning to determine the feasibility to continuing the search for body buried within the debris field. Rescue personnel from the Revelstoke, Nelson, Golden and Arrow Lakes SAR Units, including search dogs, were later ferried by chopper to the bowl where the slide occurred.

Witnesses said the avalanche occurred at about 3:30 pm when one sledder roared up the side of the bowl and cut a line below the ridge.

“It just broke across the ridge and came down,” Greg Blair of Moncton, N.B., said in an interview. He was in Revelstoke to go sledding with his two Calgary area nephews and his brother. “It swept right over all the people and kept on going. I was pretty close to the trees so I took off.”

Moskaluk said the avalanche was 150 metres wide, a kilometer in length and about 10 metres deep.

A major issue facing police is determining exactly how many people were on the mountain. They have access to a record of everyone who went up on Boulder Mountain, but that is a large and very popular snowmobiling area and not everyone who was on the mountain on Saturday was at the scene of the avalanche.

Sledders gather near the Turbo Bowl on Boulder Mountain about three hours before an avalanche thundered over them. Dan Willms photo

Local Mounties were mustered Saturday evening and went to every hotel and motel in town trying to find people who had been at the unsanctioned Big Iron Shoot Out event, which is allegedly organized by a man from Calgary.

One local police officer who went door-to-door Saturday said he had never seen anything like it.

“A lot of these people were traumatized,” he said. “Grown men were hugging and crying. It was unreal. We talked to one girl who had been up there with no gear and no Peeps beacon — no nothing. She was buried and didn’t know which way was up. She figured, ‘Okay… I’m done.’”

A special warning about conditions in the backcountry was issued by the Canadian Avalanche Centre on Friday, one day before the avalanche.

“Conditions in the mountains for the past six or seven weeks have been very tricky,” Karl Klassen of the Canadian Avalanche Centre told reporters at the news conference. “Those layers were more heavily loaded by snow than had originally been forecast. The snowpack yesterday was stabilizing, although still very unstable in most areas. I came out of the mountains last night. We had a very active avalanche cycle. The snowpack is still very unstable.”

Moskaluk did not speculate as to the number of bodies that might remain on the mountain.

Another news conference is scheduled for this afternoon.