REVELSTOKE, B.C. - The snowmobiling sport of high-marking has, it can be safely assumed, left some other people feeling very low as the result of yet another fatality near Revelstoke.
The Revelstoke Times Review reports that the latest death occurred last Saturday when a group of 10 snowmobilers watched from the base of Eagle Mountain as two snowmobilers motored up a steep slope to see how far they could get before gravity forced them back down. The two triggered an avalanche that was rated as a class 4 slide - large enough to destroy a large truck - on a scale of 5. The slide covered one of the onlookers.
The victim, Kelly Reitenbach, 30, of Calgary, was reported to have been a lineman in the Western Hockey League for seven years before he went to work in the oil industry.
This was the third fatality in just as many weeks near Revelstoke. The previous weekend two men died when a somewhat smaller avalanche was caused by high-marking. But, in that case, several hundred people had been in the area at an informal event called the Big Iron Shootout.
"Early reports from the slide site were grim," Aaron Orlando, of the Revelstoke Times review said of the first slide. "Hundreds were buried in a monster slide, many of them still under the snow. It was a ball of confusion... People feared the worst."
In the days after that avalanche, but before the most recent, Orlando said the most frequent question was what can be done to prevent these tragedies. It was, he noted, not a new question.
That very same question was asked a year ago by Canadian avalanche forecasters at the tail end of a season in which 19 snowmobilers died in avalanches in Canada.
In an essay originally published in summer 2009 titled "The year of Sledding Dangerously," John Kelly pointed out that all the snowmobilers were caught in essentially the same avalanche. By that, he meant that the base conditions which contributed to various avalanches were the same - and the dangers clearly understood, if somebody wanted to hear the messages.
Kelly admits to being flustered. "It's hard not to take every accident as a sign of failure, and it's hard to watch as the same avalanche accident scenario unfolds again and again," he wrote.
Virtually all the victims are men, so his agency targeted women: wives, partners and mothers. "... so how do you know if your man is playing safe out there? Sure, experience is important. But one thing we have come to know over the years - the avalanche doesn't know you are experienced."