A beloved member of Sicamous’ snowmobile community is dead following a tragic accident on Queest Mountain.
Eagle Valley Snowmobile Club general manager Gord Bushell says he and the snowmobiling community are saddened by the loss of Rene St. Onge, who died in an accident Sunday, Dec. 9, while riding with a group of sledders on Queest.
“It’s going to be a terrible loss for the snowmobile community and the community itself,” said Bushell.
An RCMP report states a 51-year-old resident of Sicamous was riding with a group of five other snowmobilers when his sled rolled into a creek bed, pinning him underneath.
Individuals in the group administered CPR but were unsuccessful.
Sicamous RCMP received a report of a possible fatal snowmobile accident on Queest at 2:55 p.m. The RCMP then contacted Shuswap Search and Rescue (SSAR).
The SSAR team was able to locate the group and get them out of the area. However, police say removal of the deceased was “not possible at that time due to the terrain, darkness and weather conditions.”
Bushell and members of the snowmobile club assisted with the rescue and recovery effort. According to SSAR, the Vernon SAR winch team was called in on Dec. 10 to assist with recovery efforts but could not access the area due to weather conditions.
Shuswap Search and Rescue and snowmobile club members were able to get St. Onge’s body off the mountain by that evening.
Bushell describes St. Onge as an avid and very skilled sledder.
St. Onge was both a director of the Eagle Valley Snowmobile Club and president of the Shuswap Backcountry Riders.
Tammy Chopick-Chouinard, a member of the Backcountry Riders club, said she is feeling saddened by his loss but remains committed to continuing on with the causes he championed. She said during St. Onge’s time as president, the club grew from a small organization on the verge of closure to more than 100 people attending their most recent AGM in November.
Chopick-Chouinard said St. Onge was a committed advocate for keeping the backcountry open to recreational users.
Along with a loss of direction for the club, Chopick-Chouinard lamented the loss of St. Onge’s friendly and helpful presence in the community.
“He was just helpful in general; if you were lost on the mountain he was the first person they called,” she said.
“The guy had a huge heart. He was always willing to assist somebody and help somebody; he was a good teacher and a leader.”
St. Onge was also instrumental in the restoration of the historic Eagle Pass Summit fire lookout.
It is with disbelief and heavy hearts that we share our tribute to Rene St Onge, a larger-than-life sledder who shared his passion for adventure with so many of our community. RIP Rene. https://t.co/ymeQ4hTbQH
— Mountain Sledder (@sleddermag) December 10, 2018
“We’re building it for a legacy to the people that built the place, manned the place, worked there,” he told the Eagle Valley News in a 2017 interview about the project.
St. Onge said he hoped the lookout would be a valuable tourism amenity for use by anyone who enjoys the Shuswap’s mountains.
Before getting into the business of snowmobile-focused accommodations by opening Eagle Valley Lodge, St. Onge was a high school teacher at Eagle River Secondary.
Derek Rouselle, who was in St. Onge’s shop class when he was in Grade 9 and 10, described him as an awesome teacher who always created an engaging classroom experience. After Rouselle graduated high school and St. Onge opened the lodge, Rouselle stored his snowmobile there and said he took amazing care of all his clients.
“He was 100 per cent devoted to the sport, whether it be taking tours out or restoring things and putting forth an effort on a personal level to make sledding more comfortable and put Sicamous on the map for sledding,” Rouselle said.
Police are providing support to St. Onge’s next of kin, and assisting the BC Coroners Service with their investigation into the death.