By JULIE BERTRAND
Family Day events in Donalda took a somber turn on Monday, Feb. 21 as a minute of silence was observed by the members of the community in mourning the three victims who lost their lives in an avalanche near Golden B.C on Feb. 19.
As a teenage girl tried her hand at snowshoeing, while daredevils tested their crazy carpet skills on the surrounding hills, inside the hut on the ski hill, a small table had been set up. Candles were lit next to pictures of Andy Gebhardt, Jarrett Gebhardt and Norbert Mueller, who died while snowmobiling on Mt. Gerald. Travis Mueller, the fourth member of the party was rescued by the teams arriving on the spot.
“We are just having a moment of silence and a prayer for the three that were lost,” said Judy Dinsmore, president of the Donalda Coulee Friendship Club.
“It’s only going to be a short little prayer and we will continue on with our Family Day.”
On the wall, a plaque read:
“Our heartfelt condolences go to the Mueller family and the Gebhardt families for loved ones lost in the Golden avalanche on Feb. 19, 2011”.
The victims were well-known in Donalda.
Gebhardt worked with his son at a coal mine in the area and was also involved with the village’s curling team.
Mueller owned Battle River Oilfield Services and had also run a deer farm.
“They were good guys. They did what they enjoyed doing. And that’s what they were doing up there, enjoying themselves,” said Terry Dahl, Donalda resident and a friend of the victims.
“The community was upset to learn of the accident. It’s understandable,” added Dahl.
The accident occurred when two of the victims were high-marking, which is a controversial and dangerous snowmobile sport.
It consists of riding as far up a steep mountain slope as possible, then turning around and coming back down the hill without getting stuck, rolling the snowmobile or losing power.
Two of the victims were climbing up the mountain on their snowmobiles, while two other members of the party were watching them from the bottom of the mountain.
The snowmobiles triggered an avalanche, and the snow slide buried all four men immediately, leaving them unable to use the basic avalanche gear they all carried.
A second party of approximately 20 snowmobilers rushed to the victims’ rescue after witnessing the event. The three victims and the survivor Travis Mueller were located within 45 minutes.
Family members traveled to Golden to identify the victims and were back in Donalda on Feb. 21.
They chose not to be present at the Donalda Ski Hill for the minute of silence.