Kimberly Palmer said it was a wonderful evening of snowmobiling, fondue, even some wine. Her tour group was just minutes from returning to base when everything changed.
“I was looking at them. I was saying in my head, ‘Turn! Turn!'” said the tourist from Los Angeles. “They never turned and just flew off the side.”
At about 11 p.m. on January 1, Palmer and her sister were snowmobiling directly behind an Australian couple when they veered off the trail, dropping down a 10-metre embankment before hitting a tree. The 65-year-old man operating the snowmobile was killed, his wife remains in hospital.
“We found them, they were sprawled out, he was wrapped around the tree,” said Palmer.
The evening excursion promoted as a high-end snowmobiling adventure and dining experiencing has been run by Canadian Wilderness Adventures for 22 years. This is the company’s first fatality.
“There’s nothing that can prepare you for this,” said co-owner Allan Crawford, fighting back tears.
Crawford says the tour is designed for beginners and offers practical skills training as the group heads up to the Crystal Hut on Blackcomb Mountain. He says the group had already safely navigated through the most challenging parts of the trail before the incident occurred.
“It was a wide 16 to 18-foot trail, maybe a 30-degree turn in the road, nice weather night, shouldn’t have been an issue,” he said.
While the company does offer alcohol as part of the tour, both organizers and participants say it was strictly controlled.
“They offered a half glass to the participants in the snowmobile tour,” said Palmer.
Not everyone thinks snowmobiling with Canadian Wilderness Adventures is safe.
Paula Solmie says she took a similar tour with the company three years ago and was seriously injured when her snowmobile flipped.
“I had three different surgeries on my ankle to put it back together. And to this day, it’ll never be the same,” said Solmie.
“Just the unsafe practices that I experienced when I was there and the very little training…it’s not a wonder something like that happens.”
The cause of the fatality is still under investigation by RCMP and the Coroner.
“We’ve been working with them, they have taken the snowmobile. We’re unsure at this point what really happened, why the client steered of the trail,” said Crawford.
In the meantime, he says the family has been notified.
“[It was] the hardest phone call of my life,” he said.