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11 Die in Canada, Mont. Avalanches

January 5, 1998

KASLO, British Columbia (AP) _ Avalanches that swept through British Columbia and western Montana have left 11 skiers and snowmobilers dead, and blizzards delayed recovery of bodies and a search for missing skier.

Eight skiers and snowmobilers perished in southeastern British Columbia in three avalanches that swept through the Kootenays on Friday, and avalanches in Montana on Saturday killed two Americans, an experienced climber and an avid snowmobiler.

Canadian authorities said weather conditions caused hundreds of snow slides in the region.

A blast of arctic air, which froze the snow and formed a crust, was followed by a warmer air current, causing an unstable situation, said Evan Manners of the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

``When you have a trigger, like the weight of a skier, that can put it over the critical point,″ he said.

The avalanche danger throughout the Kootenays, about 155 miles from the Alberta border, remains high and more snow, up to eight inches, had been forecast for today.

Rescuers were to try today to recover bodies of the five skiers killed in remote back country accessible only by helicopter, and police say they expect to find the body of a missing sixth skier nearby. They were reported missing Friday.

Vince Nicola, father of one of the skiers, Lise Nicola of Nelson, stood stunned Sunday night in the Cranbrook airport as he and his son prepared for a four-hour drive to Kaslo.

Flights into Castlegar, a Kootenay airport closer to the scene, had been canceled.

``We’re just going to drive through,″ said Nicola, who still held hope that his daughter was alive.

``I honestly don’t want to be part of a disaster story,″ he said.

Authorities stressed their first priority in recovering the bodies is ensuring the safety of the recovery teams.

Winds up to 50 mph raged and a heavy blizzard hit the area on Sunday, the worst storm so far this winter. But Police Constable Jay Arnold said the forecast for this morning was clear with no snow until afternoon.

In New Denver, about 31 miles northwest of Kaslo, searchers recovered the bodies of two skiers killed in an avalanche on Mount Alwyn on Friday. Police had earlier identified them as snowmobilers.

Their six companions skied after them and immediately dug them out, but the men were dead, said Police Constable Wally Beatty. They were all experienced back-country skiers and were wearing locators.

An Alberta snowmobiler was killed Friday after he and three other snowmobilers were caught up in an avalanche in the Sparwood area, where the borders of British Columbia, Alberta and the United states converge.

The worst avalanche skiing disaster in Canada happened in southeastern British Columbia near Golden in March 1991, killing nine people in the Purcell Mountains.

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