It becomes a fun bonding experience between young men, between fathers and sons, between whole families. But there are dangers inherent in all human activities that correspond to challenging nature on her home turf. Nature is indomitable, neutral to our activities, while humankind views nature as an immense adventure to be explored, exploited and enjoyed whenever and wherever possible. In the winter, in the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia, the snowpack accumulates and, according to conditions, can be extremely unstable.
Daily alerts go out warning skiers, snowmobilers, snowboarders, of the various levels of conditions. Avalanche warnings are commonplace. People become aware, on various levels of attention, of the risks they undertake in exposing themselves to backcountry adventures, in anticipating the tantalizing prospects of exploration and adventure, and just loving it all, cheating danger because of their alertness and skillful manoeuvrability.
They're entranced by the opportunity, the adventure, the vastness of the landscape, the breathtaking beauty that unfolds all around them. Their fluid, uninterrupted movement through the still, white and deep blanket of snow that comforts the earth's mantle is mesmerizing, exhilarating, powerful, haunting. If you live in a small town in southeastern British Columbia and you're young and manly and adventurous, then snowmobiling becomes the winter sport of greatest attraction.
And that encapsulates the genesis of the tragedy that befell the small mining town of Sparwood last week-end. Resulting in eight mourned sons of the town, and the grief and guilt absorbed by the three survivors of a series of avalanches that disrupted the carefree abandon of steering snowmobiles through Harvey Pass. Aware of the risks where, before departing on their shared adventure they received the avalanche-risk warning for the Elk Valley to be moderate below the treeline, considerable at and above the treeline, they were geared with shovels and beacons.
One of the grieving townsfolk, brother to the 33-year-old Warren Rothel leaving behind two young children and his pregnant wife, spoke of sledding as being in their blood; a sport handed down from father to son. Describing how his brother had already survived three previous avalanches before dying this time in the series of slides that occurred this week, taking his life and that of seven others, all friends, companions.
They called themselves the "Valley Boys", craving the excitement of extreme sport. But, the brother now recalls sadly, he decided for himself that the risks were no longer worth the excited thrill they evoked, and removed himself from sledding, while his brother carried on. And finally he received that dreaded telephone call informing him of the devastating occurrence; a call he had visualized many times over the years, become reality.
Dead and gone, not yet buried, their families and friends in deep shock and mourning.