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3 snowbikers dead after avalanche in Quebec’s Chic-Choc Mountains

Three Quebecers are dead following an avalanche in the Chic-Choc Mountains on the province’s Gaspé Penninsula.

Quebec provincial police received a distress call at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday from a person who was on a snowbike in the La Martre sector, near Mont Médaille. An avalanche had taken place and they reported that three other people were missing. 

The group of four was riding snowbikes — essentially dirt bikes with a ski for a front wheel and a caterpillar tread in the back.

Authorities launched a ground search operation. Firefighters from nearby Sainte-Anne-des-Monts along with ambulance crews were dispatched to support the Sûreté du Québec’s (SQ) avalanche team.

The three snow bikers were found around 11 p.m. They were transported to hospital where they were pronounced dead, said SQ spokesman Frédéric Deshaies.

The men who died have been identified by the coroner’s office as 35-year-old Joël Crête from Coaticook, 30-year-old Nicolas Vanasse from Coaticook and 33-year-old Bryan Forgues Morissette, from Saint-Denis-de-Brompton.

A photo of a map of part of Quebec
The incident happened in the La Martre sector near Mont Médaille in the Chic-Choc Mountains. (Radio-Canada)

‘We assume we’re all safe out there, and that’s our biggest problem,’ says expert 

Jack Verrecchia, the owner of the Sled Den which offers lessons and guides in the Chic-Choc Mountains, heard about the incident Tuesday evening. 

“We decided to go out there and see if we could give a hand,” said Verrecchia.  “By the time we got there we knew for sure there wasn’t going to be any saving.”

By the time all the crews got to the site and started the recovery, he says it had been well over three hours. 

“We had nowhere near enough guys to do what we had to do,” said Verrecchia.

He says the men who were out on their snow bikes likely didn’t have the experience to be on that part of the mountain. 

The one person in the group who managed to avoid the avalanche, had been off to the side, filming, said Verrecchia.

emergency crews on a snow covered street surrounded by forest.
Those who took part in the search and rescue say they found the bodies of the three men on Tuesday evening. (Radio-Canada)

“One guy was going across the very top and there were two guys down in the avalanche zone,” said Verrecchia. 

“When it let go, that guy slid down and went right into the other two guys that were just below him.”

Verrechia says he doesn’t let any of his staff ride in that area because of the heightened risk of an avalanche. 

While emergency crews tried their best, he says it takes time to co-ordinate a rescue — meanwhile people trapped under packed snow typically only have 10-15 minutes. 

“We’re on the east coast so we assume that it’s never, never, ever, ever, ever going to happen and unfortunately it has,” said Verrecchia. “We assume we’re all safe out there, and that’s our biggest problem.”

Sector received significant snowfall last week: Avalanche Québec

People involved in the rescue will be interviewed to understand what triggered the avalanche, said Dominic Boucher, with Avalanche Québec.

“A lot of factors can come into play, natural factors linked to snow conditions, the significant snowfall over the weekend, and the warming temperatures,” said Boucher.

“[Tuesday], we went from relatively cold temperatures on Monday to warmer ones all day, with temperatures rising up to 5C in the valley.”

He said this is the first case of people being involved and killed in an avalanche at the Gaspé park this year.

Since last Thursday, Boucher says the sector where the accident happened received quite a bit of snow — 30 to 50 centimetres.

Even though that particular sector is not in the area of forecasts covered by the Avalanche Quebec Chic-Chocs bulletin, Boucher says over the weekend they issued a warning that was up until Monday evening.  

“That was up on our website and shared on Facebook [asking people] to be vigilant because there was increased avalanche risk,” said Boucher.

He says this sector is sometimes popular among snowmobilers or snow bikers because it has easy access to the mountains. 

According to Avalanche Québec’s daily bulletin, avalanche risk was considered moderate in alpine areas on Tuesday, with increased danger in certain sectors of the Chic-Chocs.

In these conditions, avalanches can occur in isolated areas or could be triggered by human intervention, according to the website.

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