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.”
His body wasn’t found by recovery crews until Sunday evening.
Groot, who turned down an invitation to go on the same snowmobiling trip because he had 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, Hamilton’s priorities had changed, confirmed Tom’s father Jim Hamilton, who owns the local IGA store. His son was planning to sell his sled and buy a family-friendly holiday trailer.
Although Jim also has a daughter who lives in Calgary, Tom was expected to take over the IGA grocery store some day. “I had a backup for everybody in the store but Tom. He was my succession plan. He was going to take over for me,” said Jim, who’s devastated by the loss of his son.
Jim remembered Tom as a passionate person with many talents. “Whatever he wanted to do he could do.”
While he had a business degree and was the store’s IT expert and human resources person, Tom had recently taken a cabinet-making course at NAIT because he wanted to renovate his home and make his own cabinets.
Groot finds his friend’s avalanche-related death “that much harder” to bear because this snowmobiling trip to the mountains was to be his last.
He tries not to think about what his own fate might have been if he had gone to B.C. But as a former rodeo cowboy, Groot said he understands the “adrenalin rush” that draw snowmobilers to the mountainous area’s four-foot snow pack, despite a 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. (Tom) enjoyed life to the fullest.”
He’s remembered as a gregarious community builder who could be a friend to anyone. Groot said Tom 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 Tom’s death is a tragedy for the whole town, noting the Hamilton family roots go back more than a century in the community.
Bennett recalls the deceased 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 year-and-a-half-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.