Two police officers were caught up in an avalanche while skiing in B.C.’s West Kootenays on Monday, leaving one of them dead and the other critically injured.
On Tuesday, the Nelson Police Department identified the deceased as Wade Tittemore, a 43-year-old constable who left behind a wife and two elementary-school-aged sons.
Chief Donovan Fisher issued a statement offering condolences to Tittemore’s loved ones, and describing the “profound effect” his death has had on the department and community at large.
“Nelson is one of the smallest municipal police forces in Canada, and we are like one big family,” Fisher said.
“This tragedy is devastating to us here in Nelson,” the chief added at a news conference.
“These are fine men, fine officers and the whole community is hurting.”
Police said Tittemore had been working in Nelson for four years, and previously spent 11 years with the Calgary Police Service.
Nelson mayor Janice Morrison said her thoughts and prayers are with Tittemore’s family.
“We are also praying for a quick recovery of the second officer, Matt Nolet,” she said.
The two men were skiing near Goat Range Provincial Park when the avalanche struck early Monday afternoon.
Authorities said the off-duty officers appear to have entered the area on snowmobiles before hiking with their skis to a bowl in the alpine.
After the avalanche, bystanders were able to find and rescue Nolet, who was airlifted to hospital in critical condition.
“He’s in critical condition with multiple broken ribs, bones and many other internal injuries. As a force, we’re doing everything we can to assist in his recovery,” said Fisher, who explained that both men we were wearing locator beacons and passionate about the outdoors.
Fisher said during a hospital visit, Nolet said he slammed into a tree as the avalanche hit him. And while the impact caused significant injuries, it may also have saved his life.
“The way he hit it, he kind of came back up a bit, so he had one arm out of the snow,” said Fisher, adding that Nolet was able to move his arm and get the attention of other skiers and snowmobilers in the area.
Tittemore was located later, buried about two metres below the snow, and could not be saved.
“He was a great mentor to the officers in the department, truly one of those guys everyone looked up to, everyone really liked him,” said Fisher. “He’ll be missed terribly by all of us.”
Both officers worked in Calgary before moving to Nelson.
The public is invited to email their condolences for Constable Tittemore’s family to [email protected].
The tragedy prompted a wave of condolences from across Canada, including from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose youngest brother Michael died in a B.C. avalanche at the age of 23.
“I’m incredibly saddened to hear about the death of a police officer near Kaslo,” Trudeau wrote on Twitter. “To their family and friends, Canadians are with you. And to the officer who was injured, we’re wishing you a fast and full recovery.”
My thoughts are with the community of Nelson where an officer was tragically killed by an avalanche.
Sending my deepest condolences to their friends and family.
To the other officer who was injured during the accident — I'm sending you my best wishes for a quick recovery.
— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) January 10, 2023
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth described the death as a “tremendous loss” for the community of Nelson, and thanked everyone involved in the rescue.
There was also an outpouring of grief and support from the policing community in the Lower Mainland.
Chief Const. Adam Palmer of the Vancouver Police Department said “any assistance” needed by the Nelson Police Department in the aftermath of the tragedy would be provided.
Monday’s avalanche highlights the dangerous conditions on the province’s mountains, where forecasters warn last year’s drought and record-breaking cold temperatures have made for an unusually weak snowpack.
Avalanche Canada has cautioned B.C. could be facing one of the most dangerous avalanche seasons in decades.
From all of us at @AbbyPD, sending our condolences and thoughts to family, friends and our brothers and sisters @nelsoncitypd. We were saddened to learn of the off-duty death of your member while snowmobiling and pray for a full recovery for the second member. #StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/AxMwS9Ibyw
— Mike Serr (@ChiefSerr) January 10, 2023
Simon Horton, a senior forecaster for Avalanche Canada, said that Monday the avalanche danger in Kaslo area was considered moderate.
“That means there’s heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features and that large human triggered avalanches are possible,” Horton said.
He said it’s a “tricky” time to travel in the backcountry because in some areas rated moderate, “there may not be obvious signs that avalanches could occur.”
Horton said this is the first fatal avalanche of the year, but there have been a number of people caught in avalanches and some near misses.
“Anyone going into the backcountry, whether it’s to ski, snowmobile, hike, should have an avalanche safety training course,” he said, explaining that it’s important to carry the essential avalanche rescue equipment.