A sign showing an avalanche hazard warning near Mount Renshaw outside of McBride, B.C., on Saturday January 30, 2016. Two people were killed and two others were injured in two separate avalanches in B.C. Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Avalanche death toll climbs to five as two more die in British Columbia’s backcountry

Two more people have been killed in an avalanche in British Columbia, lifting the deadly season’s toll to five, as forecasters warn of large and dangerous slides occurring without the usual signs of danger.

RCMP said the two people who died Monday near Mount McCrae southeast of Revelstoke were with a small group heli-skiing in the backcountry near an area known as “Chocolate Bunnies.”

Heli-skiing operator CMH Nomads said in a statement on Tuesday the two guests and a guide were caughtin the avalanche.

CMH president Rob Rohn said two of the three people were fully buried and were located by their transceivers.

Both guests were unresponsive when they were pulled from the snow and were later pronounced dead in hospital, he said.

The guide was transferred by ambulance to Kelowna General Hospital.

Revelstoke RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Chris Dodds said the guide involved remains in hospital in serious condition.

The latest deaths come just days after a snowmobiler died after being caught in a slide triggered from above south of Valemount, B.C. Two Nelson Police Service officers were buried by snow Jan. 9 while skiing near Kaslo, B.C. Const. Wade Tittemore, 43, died in the slide, while his co-worker, Const. Mathieu Nolet, died from his injuries days later in hospital.

Rohn said in the statement that the thousands of guests who ski with them each winter are like family.

“It is impossible to put into words the sorrow that we feel and the sadness that is shared by our guests, their families and all of our staff.”

An investigation into the latest deaths is being co-ordinated by the B.C. coroner and the RCMP.

In a separate slide on Monday, B.C. Emergency Health Services said it was called following an avalanche near Cherryville east of Vernon, B.C., where one person was taken to hospital.

Experts have warned that this season’s snowpack across much of the province is particularly unstable with a weak layer of snow crystals near the bottom that was buried in late November.

Sarah Taylor with Avalanche Canada said in a statement on Tuesday that it’s important to know that a “dangerous snowpack structure” exists in the B.C. Interior that can produce large, human-triggered avalanches.

“We urge backcountry users to exercise caution and make conservative, low-consequence choices if they decide to travel in avalanche terrain,” she said.

Taylor said backcountry users should always check the avalanche forecast, have essential rescue gear and the training to use it.

Avalanche Canada forecast supervisor Ryan Buhler said in a news release issued by the B.C. government that the snowpack was “highly unusual and unpredictable.”

“The complication with this snowpack setup is that the layers are deep enough that we are less likely to see clues of instability, like nearby avalanche activity, ‘whumpfing’ or cracking snow,” Buhler said.

“However, despite the lack of obvious clues, there is serious potential for large, human-triggered avalanches. We urge backcountry users to exercise caution and make conservative, low-consequence choices if they decide to travel in avalanche terrain.”

The statement says that in the past 10 years, about three-quarters of all Canadian avalanche fatalities occurred in B.C.

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