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Friends rally support for Cleary's family

A trust fund and online fundraiser have been launched for former downhill mountain biking coach A.J. Cleary
A trust fund and online fundraiser have been launched for former downhill mountain biking coach A.J. Cleary's family.
— image credit: Submitted Photo

The community is rallying behind the family of a Coldstream man killed in an avalanche.

A.J. Cleary, 34, died Saturday from injuries sustained when his snowmobile was caught in an avalanche five kilometres east of Keefer Lake in the Monashee Pass.

“We’re all shocked and saddened by this news. We will remember A.J. for being a passionate mountain biker who was an inspiration to all young riders,” said Brad Baker, Silver Star acting general manager.

A native of Come-by-Chance, Nfld., Cleary was a nurse at Vernon Jubilee Hospital and an avid outdoor enthusiast. He had worked part-time at Silver Star Mountain Resort last summer and was a downhill mountain biking coach.

Silver Star Mountain Resort has opened a trust fund for Cleary’s family and resort president Jane Cann donated $1,000 to launch the fund.

Cleary’s wife Laura is pregnant with their first child.

“For someone that showed so much support for their community and its members, this is the least we can do for his family,” said Cann.

Cleary was a member of the North Okanagan Cycling Society which builds, maintains and advocates for new trails.

Donations made out to the Baby Cleary Trust can be dropped off at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation office in the hospital.

Friends have also established an online fundraiser, with the goal of raising $50,000.

“Laura is going to need assistance during this difficult time so we’re doing anything possible to make this transition easier,” said friend Andrew Spelchan.

For more information, go to https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/8iPO7/ab/32zxQb.

Cleary was one of a group of six people snowmobiling Saturday when at about 2:15 p.m., an avalanche struck, burying Cleary under as much as five metres of snow. After Cleary was found and rescued, he was transported to Kelowna General Hospital but he couldn’t be resuscitated.

Cleary’s death has officials urging residents to be cautious in the backcountry.

Leigh Pearson, with Vernon Search and Rescue, believes the avalanche threat is serious throughout the North Okanagan backcountry.

“Be prepared and be aware,” he said of snowmobilers, skiers and snowshoers.

Beyond Keefer Lake, there was the potential for a group of snowmobilers to be injured in the Park Mountain area, near Sugar Lake, March 7.

“They saw an avalanche come down one kilometre ahead of them. They did test holes and turned around and left because of conditions,” said Pearson.

The avalanche risk is a result of new snowfall not sticking to older layers of snow, and that is creating instability.

If people are heading into the backcountry, they should have an operating beacon with fresh batteries, a probe and a shovel.

“Most snowmobilers and skiers are taking that equipment with them. The message is getting out to them,” said Pearson.

Pearson is encouraging anyone spending time in the backcountry to take an avalanche course.

“Instructors will show you how to select a route that will be safe, and if you have to cross an avalanche route, how to do it as safely as possible,” he said.

For more information on avalanche conditions and training, go to the Canadian Avalanche Centre website at www.avalanche.ca/cac.

 

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