Two thousand flickering candles were raised in silent salute to eight snowmobilers lost to backcountry avalanches, as a community mourned its loss yesterday.

A memorial in Sparwood, B.C., paid tribute to Danny Bjarnason, Kurt Kabel, Warren Rothel, Kane Rusnak, Leonard Stier, Michael Stier, Thomas Talarico and Blayne Wilson, who died on Dec. 28, when two avalanches hit them in the backcountry near Fernie, B.C.

Eleven men were engulfed as they tried to help snowmobilers trapped by the first avalanche.
Three men — Jeff Adams, James Drake and Jeremy Rusnak — managed to dig themselves out and have spoken of the “gut-wrenching” decision to leave their eight friends behind as they sought help.

The communal memorial came at the end of a week of funerals and public mourning in the town.

Around 2,000 people filled the town recreation centre, where the community ice rink was covered to allow seating to be laid out.

A large screen was assembled outside the arena in preparation for large crowds of mourners but as temperatures dropped to ­–25 C most chose to watch the two-hour ceremony at home on television, leaving the streets of both Sparwood and Fernie empty.

Photographs of the eight men lined the stage, flanked by two snowmobiles.

Shrines below the stage emphasized the men’s love for the outdoors — hiking boots and a fishing bag; photos of others standing proudly next to new snowmobiles and elk slain on hunting trips.

Family members and friends paid tribute to those lost, telling stories of loyal men who “would give you the shirt off their back” and loved every outdoor sport.

Speaking of his friend Warren Rothel, Joe DeLuca said: “If it raised the hair on your neck he had to try it — twice. He was meticulous about details and safety —planning, checking and double checking everything.”

“He did everything he could to help people,” said Amy Morrow of her partner, Blayne Wilson.
“So December 28 in the backcountry we know that Blayne did all he could and more to help those that needed it. For that he is our hero.”