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German tourists on celebratory trip latest victims in ‘horrific’ B.C. avalanche season

What would become a holiday ski trip to British Columbia for a German father, his boyfriend and two sons ended in tragedy on Wednesday when three of the men died in an avalanche.

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The Bavarian news agency Passauer Neue Presse reported that management consultant Thomas Kräh, 57, and his son-in-law Henning, 34, were with 57-year-old politician Christian Altmann when the landslide occurred 30 kilometers south-west of Invermere.

The men had traveled with Kräh’s son Thomas, 25, from the village of Eging in the Bavarian district of Passau to celebrate the completion of his studies, Global News reported.

Thomas Krah was the sole survivor of the group, which consisted of nine foreigners, who were flown into the backcountry with a company guide by heliski company RK Heliski on Wednesday. The tourists had stayed at the Panorama Mountain Resort.

At 11:45 am, BC Emergency Health Services was notified that an avalanche had swept away 10 skiers, including the RK heliski guide.

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“The rescue effort was conducted by Search and Rescue (and) the Panorama Ski Patrol in coordination with directly involved heli-skiing companies,” RCMP Cpl. James Grandy said in a press release on Thursday.

When the Columbia Valley Search and Rescue arrived, the three buried bodies had been found. Four others, including the tour guide, were flown to Invermere Hospital and are believed to be recovering.

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“We have not yet confirmed that each of the families has been notified,” Grandy said.

RK Heliski General Manager Graham Holt identified the event as a Class 3 avalanche triggered by a skier on a quarter of the descent.

Although the company’s employees have been trained in avalanche safety, Holt told reporters, “With any outdoor activity, you can’t eliminate the risk 100 percent.”

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Before being ushered into the wild terrain, RK heliski tour participants sign a liability waiver acknowledging the common occurrence and unpredictability of avalanches. Both the guides and participants are each equipped with a probe, shovel and walkie-talkie, which Holt said allowed rescuers to locate the victims more quickly.

“The guide is in stable condition and is well maintained,” he added. “Any time one of your team members is absent, it is tragic. This is the most difficult day of my life.”

The three deaths are the latest in BC’s rising tally of 12 deaths caused by avalanches so far this year.

Premier David Eby warned people thinking of engaging in similar adventures at an independent press conference on Thursday.

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“This has been a terrible avalanche season for British Columbia. People who are thinking about going to the backcountry, please be extremely careful.”

Avalanche Canada is warning backcountry users of unstable conditions across the province and says inland snowpack is among the most difficult to manage in decades.

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“Wind plates are expected to respond to human triggers. Avoid thin and rocky launch zones, particularly in the alpine and upper tree lines where deeply buried weak layers remain a concern,” meteorologist Mike Conlan reported Thursday. “Slopes that have previously avalanched this season have the capacity to produce larger avalanches when reloaded with fresh snow.”

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The weather in Invermere on Wednesday was -10C, with light to moderate winds and almost an inch of fresh snow.

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