A Ponoka snowmobiler’s “last hurrah” trip to the mountains ended in tragedy when he was killed by an avalanche on the weekend.
Tom Hamilton, a married father of a baby and a toddler who worked at his family-owned grocery store, was one of two snowmobilers found dead near the village of McBride, B.C., on Saturday afternoon. Also killed was Curtis Fries of Edmonton.
The two men were part of a four-person group snowmobiling in the lower Doré River drainage area when the avalanche struck.
Hamilton, 29, was wearing an inflatable avalanche-safety backpack, said Ken Groot, a fellow member of the Ponoka Kinsmen, but “it happened so fast, he didn’t have time to pull the rip cord.”
Groot, who had to turn down an invitation to go on the same snowmobiling trip to B.C. to attend a meeting, sees Hamilton’s death as particularly tragic because it was supposed to be his “last hurrah” trip to the mountains.
“He was going to sell his sled after this one.”
With two young children at home, Groot said Hamilton’s priorities had changed. Although snowmobiling had been Hamilton’s passion, he was planning to give up the risky activity for the sake of his family. “It makes (his death) that much harder,” said Groot, who added Hamilton’s wife and father are devastated.
He tries not to think about what his own fate might have been if he had gone to B.C.
As a former rodeo bronc rider, Groot said he understands the “adrenalin rush” that draw snowmobilers to the mountainous area’s four-foot snow pack, despite the risk of spring avalanches.
“It’s a risk you know you’re taking … but I went out to the same area … (a couple of) years ago, and it was a riot.”
Groot feels his friend’s philosophy was “if you’re not taking any risks, why live? … He enjoyed life to the fullest.”
Hamilton was described as a gregarious community builder who could be a friend to anyone. Groot said he was a vocal proponent of many Kinsmen community enhancement projects, including parks and playgrounds. “He was a very outgoing person and a wonderful father.”
Ponoka Mayor Rick Bonnett feels Hamilton’s death is a tragedy for the whole town.
Hamilton’s father Jim owns the local IGA grocery store and has roots that go back more than a century in the community. Although Jim also has a daughter who lives in Calgary, his son Tom was expected to take over the IGA grocery store some day.
Bennett said Tom Hamilton will be remembered as a hard worker, who always greeted customers warmly. “It’s a real tragedy that he has two little kids who will not get to know their father. …
“Our hearts go out to his wife and kids and the whole family. They’ve been a huge part of the community,” added the mayor.
Hamilton’s step-mother, Beva Hamilton, was a town councillor for a year before her death in 2011.
Tom is survived by his wife Amanda and their two-year-old daughter and eight-month-old son, as well as his father Jim and sister Amy.
A funeral is expected to be held on Saturday at the Ponoka curling rink. A trust fund for Hamilton’s children is being set up at the local ATB branch. The Ponoka Kinsmen are meeting to discuss what else can be done for the family.