Off-duty police officer killed in avalanche near Kaslo, B.C., another injured

Off-duty police officer killed in avalanche near Kaslo, B.C., another injured
Nelson Police Department/Facebook

The City of Nelson, B.C., says 43-year-old Const. Wade Tittemore was the victim of an avalanche Monday that rolled over him and a fellow member of the city’s police department.

It says the second officer, Const. Mathieu Nolet remains in critical condition in hospital.

The statement from the city says Tittemore had been with the force for four years and before that was with the Calgary Police Service for 11 years.

It says Tittemore was an avid backcountry enthusiast who loved skiing, hiking and backpacking and moved to Nelson with his wife and two sons.

Nelson Police Chief Donovan Fisher says Nolet has internal injuries and broken ribs.

Fisher says the RCMP will be covering shifts for the Nelson Police Department and other departments from around the province have also offered help.

The Nelson Police Board said the two were on snowmobiles about 70 kilometres north of the city when they were engulfed.

No further details were immediately available, but the Nelson Facebook post said more information would be released in the coming days.

Avalanche Canada said in a post on its website that some professionals are comparing this year’s snowpack to 2003, “which was one of the worst years on record for avalanche fatalities.”

Simon Horton, a senior forecaster with Avalanche Canada, said details of what triggered the deadly avalanche are still emerging, but the region has a “tricky snowpack” with weak areas deeply buried by large storms over the holidays.

“That goes back to the cold weather we had in the early winter, which has created weak snow at the bottom of the snowpack, and there are signs that that avalanche did involve these deeper weak layers,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Horton said the issue with the deep, weak snow has existed for a few weeks and “could take a few more weeks, potentially even months,” before conditions get better.

“It could just be a tricky winter where people heading into that country need to be disciplined and choose conservative terrain,” he said.

Horton said many parts of the backcountry in Western Canada are seeing similar weak snowpack structures with the potential to trigger large avalanches.

It’s important, he said, that people who go out to the backcountry have taken an avalanche safety training course, carry rescue equipment and check the forecast to identify the avalanche terrain and hazardous slopes.

The Avalanche Canada website rated the avalanche risk in that area in southeastern B.C. at a three on its five-point scale, meaning the danger was “considerable.”

“Periods of drought and cold weather … created numerous problematic layers in the snowpack,” the website said, generating conditions “seen once every 10 to 20 years.” It called the snowpack “spooky” for much of Western Canada.

“The setup of the snowpack varies across the provinces but there is a similar theme for most areas — riders have triggered large, scary avalanches with high consequences,” it said.

The website said a size 2.5 avalanche had been triggered by humans on a slope near Kaslo on Monday, and Avalanche Canada spokeswoman Sarah Taylor confirmed it was the same slide that involved the officers.

Avalanche sizes are classified in a five-point rating that measures destructive potential. A slide with a rating of two is large enough to bury, injure or kill a person, while an avalanche ranked at three can bury a car, destroy a small building or break trees, the Avalanche Canada site said.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said in a statement Tuesday that the death of the officer is a tremendous loss for Nelson and for policing in B.C.

“Our hearts go out to the family, friends and colleagues of the off-duty Nelson police officer killed yesterday in an avalanche while snowmobiling near Kaslo,” Farnworth said.

“On behalf of all British Columbians, we send our deepest condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy. Our thoughts are also with the officer who was critically injured, and we wish them well as they begin to recover.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted a message of support to the surviving officer and to family, friends and colleagues of both officers, saying he was “incredibly saddened” to hear the news and wishing the survivor a “fast and full recovery.”

Trudeau’s youngest brother, Michel, was just 23 years old when he died in an avalanche in B.C. in 1998.

Vancouver Police Department Chief Adam Palmer also sent his support, tweeting “our thoughts at VPD are with the officers’ families and our brothers and sisters.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 10, 2023.

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