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Columbia Valley reeling after avalanche kills three, injures four backcountry skiers

The Columbia Valley is reeling after an avalanche killed three and injured four others, including the guide, heli-skiing southwest of Invermere on Wednesday.
RCMP in southeastern British Columbia confirm three skiers have been killed in an avalanche Wednesday near Invermere, B.C. An avalanche hazard warning of “considerable” is shown near Mount Renshaw outside of McBride, B.C., on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The Columbia Valley is reeling after an avalanche killed three and injured four others, including the guide, heli-skiing southwest of Invermere on Wednesday.

“This is a small valley and we all care deeply for one another,” said Susan Clovechok, who represents rural areas of the Columbia Valley with the Regional District of East Kootenay. “There are no words that adequately can convey our sorrow for the lives lost and all of the lives affected by this tragedy.”

Columbia Valley RCMP were notified at approximately noon about a group of 10 people caught up in the avalanche. Search and Rescue was initially mustered, then stood down. Cpl. James Grandy said everyone in the group has been accounted for, with four injured who were expected to recover.

RCMP said the group was swept away by the avalanche not far from the Panorama Mountain Resort, about 150 kilometres southwest of Banff.

BC Emergency Health Services responded with four ambulances, which met helicopters in Invermere. Paramedics cared for four patients and transported them to the hospital, according to a spokesperson.

The president of a heli-skiing operation says he and his staff are heartbroken.

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.

“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.

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.”

“My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been impacted, and with everyone who was involved in the emergency response,” said Clovechok. “I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the individuals, volunteers, organizations, emergency responders, and health care teams who responded yesterday. We are so fortunate to have so many amazing and skilled people in our valley who, in the face of tragedy, work together seamlessly.”

All skiers were foreign; their identities and nationalities aren’t being released until next-of-kin have been notified, according to RCMP.

So far this winter season, 12 people have been killed in six deadly avalanches in B.C.

—With a file from the Canadian Press

RELATED: Police confirm three skiers killed in southeast B.C. avalanche near Invermere

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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