A narrow Labrador pass well-known for avalanches claimed its latest victim on the weekend, a young snowmobiler whose death has left the largely Inuit town of Nain grieving.
“We’re a small community and everybody knows everybody,” Mayor Joe Dicker said Monday from the town of 1,125 people. “When one is affected, everyone is affected.”
More than 100 people aided in the search for the young snowmobiler caught in Saturday’s avalanche, along with two other men who survived.
The three men were trapped in the popular snowmobiling spot known as the “Blowhole” a few kilometres outside Nain in northern Labrador.
“Three men were caught in the path of an avalanche. Two of the men emerged at the bottom of the slide; however, they could not locate their companion,” RCMP said in a release.
Dicker described the passage as a narrow pass between high hills.
Dicker said avalanches can occur in the area depending on snow conditions, but the community does not have funding to run controlled testing for avalanche risks.
Western Canada, with its mountain ranges, is perceived as most frequently rocked by avalanches.
But a team led by St. John’s-based geologist David Liverman, who researches the history of avalanches in Newfoundland and Labrador, has recorded 76 avalanche deaths over the last few centuries.
The earliest and deadliest took place in the same area as this past weekend’s fatal event.
In the winter of 1781-82, records from Moravian missionaries describe an avalanche in the Nain area that struck an Inuit settlement, killing 22 people.
“There gather’d a monstrous body of snow which shot all at once down and pressed the winter hauss even with the ground, with all the people in it excepting one man who was buried in the snow without,” an excerpt from the record read.
According to Newfoundland and Labrador’s government website, it is the earliest recorded avalanche in Canada.
Other avalanches in 1921 and 1959 have buried people in their homes in the Battery, a St. John’s, N.L., neighbourhood built against a steep, rocky slope. Infrastructure work has been done since then to prevent future incidents.
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While the West Coast reports more events on the slopes — and regularly does avalanche forecasting — Liverman said Newfoundland and Labrador is unusual for the number of people killed by avalanches burying their homes.
“It doesn’t just affect people in the backcountry,” he said.
“Really, you can get avalanches anywhere there are steep slopes and lots of snow.”
RCMP thanked the community on Monday for its “amazing turnout” for the weekend search, though it proved fruitless.
An RCMP spokesperson said Sunday that the young man was found after about two hours of searching and was brought to a clinic, where he was pronounced dead.
Yvonne Jones, the MP representing Labrador, expressed sympathies for the family in a Facebook post on Sunday.
“You and the community of Nain are in our thoughts, and the people of Labrador mourns with you,” Jones wrote.