NEWS

Snowmobilers Tom Hamilton, Curtis Fries die in B.C. avalanche

03/23/2015 02:01 EDT | Updated 05/23/2015 05:59 EDT
Jim Hamilton lost everything on the weekend.

He and his son, Tom, worked together at Hamilton’s IGA in Ponoka, an institution that has been in the family for almost 100 years.

Four generations of Hamilton’s have worked there, through good times and bad.

The worst times of all came on Saturday, when an avalanche swept down a mountain slope near McBride, B.C., and buried Tom Hamilton and another snowmobiler.

Hamilton, 29, was a father of two. Curtis Fries, 36, was from Sherwood Park.

"He was my life," Hamilton’s father said on Monday. "He was my succession plan. Since he was probably six years old, his goal was to take over the store."

That job will fall to someone else now.

When he first heard the news on Saturday, Jim Hamilton did what he has done thousands of times. He went to the store. "I walked in and I had to walk out," he said. "I just couldn’t."

On Monday he went back, to see the staff, to talk to them.

"They’re all very devastated," he said.

Hamilton, Fries and two other Alberta men were snowmobiling in an area known as the Dore River Basin on Saturday morning when a large avalanche swept down the mountain. Fries and Hamilton were buried under the snow.

One man dug himself out immediately, RCMP said. The two men atop the snow tried to dig out Fries. But when they reached him, he was already dead.

The two survivors could not find Hamilton, so they went for help.

A search-and-rescue team decided conditions were too dangerous to attempt a search and recovery effort, police said.

On Sunday, one body was recovered by helicopter. The other was discovered a short distance away in about five metres of snow.

Tuesday would have been Tom Hamilton’s second wedding anniversary. Now the family is making funeral plans for a man who leaves a wife and two children under age two.

The lettuce story

Asked for a story, Jim Hamilton told this one:

His son had recently graduated university with a business degree. He caught a sailing ship to Australia and got a job picking lettuce.

Day after day, he stood behind a conveyor belt, cutting heads of lettuce.

"The wheels of the conveyor belt go between the rows," Jim Hamilton said, "and you cut the head of lettuce and throw it onto the conveyor belt. If someone is missing, two people share a row and you take turns.

"The person who was working beside Tom was complaining about it. He said, ‘It’s not fair, we have to do more work.’ So Tom just said, ‘Well, I’ll do both rows, don’t worry about it.’ "

The boss found out, and told Tom to stop, because he was making other workers look bad.

"He’s got a little bit of his dad in him. So the next day, he cut three rows, and got fired."

Tom Hamilton was president of the local the Kinsmen club, and chairman of the town’s toboggan hill committee.

"It’s devastating," said Ponoka Mayor Rick Bonnett. "The family has been a big part of the community for pretty near a hundred years. It’s hard to fathom, the community is in shock.

Jim Hamilton said his son had a friend who died last year while snowmobiling in the mountains.

They talked about it.

"He said, ‘Dad, Kim goes in places where I would never go. Kim is a risk taker.’"

He said his son was careful, that he always packed a beacon, a parachute, and a shovel in case of an avalanche. He said his son stayed away from high-risk areas.

Jim Hamilton said his son planned to sell his Ski-doo and buy a holiday trailer, so he and his wife could to spend more time camping with their children.

"This was his last trip," he said.

Correction : A previous version of this story mistakenly said that the Edmonton man was a father of two children. In fact, Tom Hamilton, the man from Ponoka, was the father of two. The story has been changed to reflect that fact. (Mar 23, 2015 4:21 PM)

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