The area around Golden in southeast B.C. is billed as a winter playground but it turned deadly on the weekend when two avalanches struck different groups on successive days.
A 30-year-old man from Calgary was killed, a 40-year-old man from Winnipeg was injured and two other men escaped unharmed when an avalanche hit a party of four snowmobile riders near Quartz Creek on Saturday.
On Sunday, a second avalanche struck a group of 13 skiers, near Esplanade Mountain, leaving several injured, one critically and one seriously, but with no immediate fatalities.
"My understanding from Emergency Management BC is that the big one they had [Sunday] has not yet had any fatalities in it," said Barb McLintock of the BC Coroners Service. "On the other hand, there are some critical [and serious] injuries so we will be keeping our eye out."
The second avalanche struck Sunday at 11 a.m.
Constable Spencer Lainchbury, of the Golden-Field RCMP detachment, said in a statement that four injured skiers were taken to the Golden and District General Hospital for treatment, and two with serious injuries were taken to other hospitals.
He said a 64-year-old Canmore, Alta., man in critical condition was taken by air ambulance to Calgary and a 58-year-old Calgary woman was flown to Kamloops in serious-but-not-life-threatening condition. In addition, a 34-year-old Golden man, a 53-year-old woman whose hometown wasn't given, a 62-year-old woman from Canmore and a 59-year-old woman from West Vancouver were all treated in Golden.
The names of the injured were not released by police.
Both avalanches happened in a region that promotes itself as one of the premier snowmobiling areas in B.C.
Located in rugged mountains between Yoho and Glacier National Parks, the Golden area has both groomed trails and wild back-country routes that feature dramatic mountain scenery.
But Avalanche Canada has been warning for the past few weeks to use caution travelling in the back country throughout southeast B.C. because of unstable snow packs.
This weekend, Avalanche Canada also issued a "special warning" for the region, saying heavy snowfalls, including more than 50 centimetres that fell near Golden, followed by sunny days, would elevate the avalanche risk.
"Strong solar radiation may result in increased avalanche activity. Storm slabs [of snow] and persistent weak slabs may be easier to trigger with light loads," states the Avalanche Canada forecast of snow conditions for the area.
Earlier this month, after the deaths of five people in an avalanche near McBride on Jan. 29, Avalanche Canada and the BC Coroners Service issued a statement urging people to travel in the backcountry with caution.
The special warning for this weekend advised the public that conditions would be dangerous through Monday.
"Avalanche Canada recommends backcountry users avoid large slopes in the alpine and at treeline, especially slopes that have not been previously ridden," stated the warning. "This advice will be especially important for those seeking fresh tracks or pushing into new riding areas."
Avalanche Canada spokesperson Mary Clayton said Sunday the circumstances of the two Golden avalanches weren't immediately known and she couldn't say if the victims had travelled in especially risky terrain.
"We don't know enough about what happened today. It's hard to comment until we find out more. It sounds bad but we don't know what went on there," said Ms. Clayton.
"We want to know more about what happened. The slope angle and those kind of things, and then we can talk."
She said the warning issued by Avalanche Canada was not an advisory to stay out of the back country, but for anyone who went there to proceed with caution.
"We generally don't like to say stay out of the back country. You can still enjoy yourself in the back country by choosing terrain appropriate to the conditions and to your level of [avalanche] education and awareness," she said.