The three German tourists killed in Wednesday’s avalanche near Invermere, B.C., were part of a group of four — family and close friends.
They all have connections to the small village of Eging, in Bavaria, Germany.
The 25-year-old man who was injured but survived in the slide was gifted the heli-ski trip to B.C. for completing his thesis, a German news outlet confirmed.
His 57-year-old father was killed in the avalanche, along with the older man’s son-in-law, who was 34. A 57-year-old family friend — a politician and endurance athlete — also died, reporter Luis Hanusch said.
“All of us in our community are deeply upset and feel deep sorrow,” said Eging Mayor Walter Bauer.
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In German, Bauer said an Eging citizen, his son-in-law and a friend of the two, who was also a member of the MGR, were killed in an avalanche during a skiing vacation in Canada. The son of the citizen from Eging, who was also there, was seriously injured, he said.
“I myself am shocked, stunned and still cannot believe how cruel life can be.
“The loss of a human being always affects the relatives and friends deeply, but a sudden and so tragic death of three people is even harder to cope with. All our sympathy and grief in these difficult hours is of course especially for the relatives and surviving relatives,” Bauer said.
The slide was reported to emergency officials shortly after 12:30 p.m. Wednesday near Panorama Mountain Resort by Invermere, B.C. The area is about 150 kilometres southwest of Banff, Alta.
RCMP confirmed three people who were part of a group of 10 heli-skiers died.
RK Heliski, the company who guided the group, said nine guests and one guide were caught in the avalanche.
“It’s with heavy hearts that we’re here today,” said RK Heliski president Tom Brinkerhoff on Thursday. “(It’s the) saddest day, not just of our lives, but also here at RK for the tragedy that’s taken place.”
Graham Holt, the general manager of RK Heliski, described what happened and the aftermath as “the most difficult time period in my career.”
RCMP Cpl. James Grady said everyone in the group has been accounted for, and the four injured people are expected to recover.
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“One of the seriously-injured was the guide,” Grady said.
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RK Heliski believe the avalanche was skiier-triggered about a quarter of the way down the slope.
Avalanche Canada said the avalanche happened on a southwest aspect at alpine elevation (approximately 2,500 metres). It was “a deep persistent slab avalanche that ran on basal facets.”
“A dangerous snowpack structure exists in the B.C. Interior that can produce large human-triggered avalanches,” Avalanche Canada said. It explained the deep weak layer “has caused many high-consequence avalanches since its formation and has already claimed numerous lives.”
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Wednesday’s slide marked the sixth deadly avalanche in B.C. since the season began in the fall.
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“People who are going out into the backcountry right now need to recognize that a lot of the deaths we’ve seen here in British Columbia were from people who were very experienced or were with guides who were highly experienced in the backcountry,” B.C. Public Safety Minister Bowinn Ma said.
“We need people to seriously consider and assess the terrain that they’re going into and potentially consider delaying their trip until conditions are safer.”
When asked if the province could play a role in closing backcountry access for safety reasons, Ma said Avalanche Canada is the authority in this area and rates conditions at levels of risk.
“At this time, we are in regular contact with Avalanche Canada and ready to act as advised by Avalanche Canada.”
An Avalanche Canada spokesperson told Global News it is a not-for-profit organization focused on public avalanche safety and does not have the jurisdiction to close the backcountry “and would never seek to do so.”
It says “any backcountry travel has inherent risks, like many other sports, and mitigating these risks is part of travelling in the mountains,” but “closing the backcountry is not a feasible solution.”
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Rescue crews responded quickly, and included teams from CMH Heli-skiing and Panorama, which sent 12 professional ski patrollers and avalanche technicians by helicopter to help.
In a statement Friday, Panorama CEO Steve Paccagnan said the mountain community is a close-knit one.
“Our hearts go out to the RK Heliski, their staff and guests at this unimaginably difficult time.
“We deeply understand the unwavering care and commitment that RK shows their guests and employees every season.
“There are no words to describe the sadness we feel for the lives lost and those affected by the accident,” Paccagnan said.
— With files from Jayme Doll and Heather Yourex-West, Global News
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