An aerial image of the avalanche that killed three on Mt. Gerald on Feb. 19. Snowmobile tracks are faintly visible in several spots on the slope. High-marking loops are visible just above the fracture line and just below the ridge at the centre of the picture.

An aerial image of the avalanche that killed three on Mt. Gerald on Feb. 19. Snowmobile tracks are faintly visible in several spots on the slope. High-marking loops are visible just above the fracture line and just below the ridge at the centre of the picture.

High-marking snowmobilers trigger fatal Mt. Gerald avalanche

Three Alberta snowmobilers have been killed in an avalanche north of Golden at about 5 p.m. on Feb. 19.

REVELSTOKE – Three Alberta snowmobilers were killed in an avalanche north of Golden at about 5 p.m. on Feb. 19.

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said a group of four snowmobilers were buried in the avalanche on Mount Gerald, about 75 kilometres north of Golden.

“Witness statements have confirmed that the avalanche appears to have been human triggered when two of the four men were high-marking and the other two men were observing at the bottom of the slope,” Moskaluk said.

Other snowmobilers came to their assistance and dug them out. Despite their effort, three of the buried riders had died, while the fourth was uncovered and resuscitated at the scene.

He was transported to hospital in Golden with minor injuries and symptoms of shock.

One of the rescuers was himself partially buried during the rescue.

The deceased are all from Halkirk, Alberta. RCMP say the group consisted of two father-son pairs. The deceased have been identified as Andy Gebhardt, his son Jarrett Gebhardt and Norbert Mueller. The survivor is Norbert’s son Travis Mueller.

Golden Search & Rescue responded to the scene, but were unable to remove the bodies of the deceased on Feb. 19.

Searchers returned on Feb. 20 and recovered the bodies of the men.

The incident was the second avalanche in the area on Feb. 19 that Golden Search & Rescue responded to.

At about 3:30 p.m., a backcountry skier reported an avalanche involving snowmobilers on Repeater Peak, also located north of Golden.

The skier, who was about a kilometre away, reported seeing two snowmobilers, then an avalanche, but couldn’t say for sure if the pair were buried.

Searchers were transported to the scene by helicopter and confirmed nobody was injured in that incident.

The fatal avalanche appears to involve a dangerous pattern of activity that has been the focus of education campaigns this season. High-marking involves riding straight up steep slopes to see who can make the highest mark in the snow, a test of both the rider’s abilities and the power of his machine. The Canadian Avalanche Centre and Revelstoke Search & Rescue have warned groups of riders partaking in the activity to take a number of precautionary steps. They warn spectators and other participants not to watch from below where an avalanche triggered by the rider on the slope could bury them. They also advise limiting the number of high-marking riders on the slope to one at a time.

The warnings are in addition to usual precautions, such as taking avalanche training courses, checking avalanche hazard bulletins, carrying rescue equipment and also knowing how to use the equipment properly.

The Canadian Avalanche Centre provided this advice in an interview with the Revelstoke Times Review, and Revelstoke Search & Rescue has also spread the word through local radio advertisements this season.

The March, 2010 disaster at Boulder Mountain near Revelstoke that killed two and buried dozens involved a large crowd congregating in an avalanche runout zone while high-marking riders raced up the slope above.

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