Search-and-rescue volunteer killed in avalanche remembered as 'dedicated, joyful' environmentalist

Tenne Bird Andersen, an avid backcountry user and volunteer with Cariboo Search and Rescue, was one of two skiers killed in an avalanche on Potato Peak in B.C.'s Chilcotin region on Feb. 11. (Supplied/GoFundMe - image credit)
Tenne Bird Andersen, an avid backcountry user and volunteer with Cariboo Search and Rescue, was one of two skiers killed in an avalanche on Potato Peak in B.C.'s Chilcotin region on Feb. 11. (Supplied/GoFundMe - image credit)

A search-and-rescue volunteer who died in an avalanche in B.C.'s backcountry last week is being remembered by friends, family and colleagues as a "dedicated, joyful" environmentalist who loved the outdoors.

Tenne Bird Andersen was one of two backcountry skiers swept up in an avalanche on Potato Peak in the Chilcotin region of the province on Feb. 11.

Her teammates with Cariboo Search and Rescue recovered her body.

"The loss has been devastating beyond words for our team," said spokesperson Debra Bortolussi.

"We just would really like to say that our member who we lost was a very kind, loving and bright soul with a huge love for the outdoors who's going to be deeply missed by friends, family and the entire community."

The loss has prompted an emotional plea from the 15-member team about this season's dangerous avalanche conditions, which have claimed nine lives across B.C. in less than two months — including seasoned, trained adventurers like Andersen.

"There's huge risk and even risk that people think they can be prepared for or have safety parameters for ... that just doesn't exist this year. This year, that risk is true and it is there," Bortolussi said.

Supplied/Simon Fraser University
Supplied/Simon Fraser University

Andersen and a friend were skiing near the east-facing slope of Potato Peak, southwest of Williams Lake. The search-and-rescue team started looking for the pair after they were reported overdue.

Bortolussi said Andersen had taken the Avalanche Skills Training 2 (AST2) course, designed for the serious and experienced winter backcountry users. Both skiers were carrying avalanche beacons and other safety gear.

The slope wasn't particularly steep, Bortolussi said — underscoring how widespread the risk has been this year.

"It was said that by one of our members that if you looked at it, you wouldn't have thought that it would be capable of creating an avalanche that had such dire consequences and resulted in the double fatality," she said.

WATCH | Experts offer safety training as forecasters predict a severe avalanche season in B.C.

Avalanche Canada said the deadly slide happened in "very remote and rugged terrain" outside of its forecasting area.

"There were a couple of factors that we saw from the avalanche," said senior forecaster Simon Horton.

"One is that it did involve very weak layers, and that's why we're calling it a 'deep, persistent slab' avalanche. And the second factor was that it was very wind-affected and that wind-blown snow on top of the weak snow would have produced an avalanche."

Andersen joined the Cariboo Search-and-Rescue team last year — the same year she graduated from the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

"She never failed to recognize and seize an opportunity, and she wasn't one to hide from the uncomfortable or the unknown. On the contrary, she embraced it; her life philosophy was to keep moving towards experiences that would challenge her to grow," read a statement shared on the school's website by fellow student and friend, Dasha Kamalova.

"It's rare to see someone living life to its full potential on a daily basis, but that's what she did."

A GoFundMe to support Andersen's family said she was "a joyful, resilient, and adventurous human, sister, daughter, and friend."

9 avalanche fatalities in B.C. in 2023

Nine people have been killed in avalanches across the province this year, including two off-duty police officers, an Alberta man and two brothers from the United States.

Canada usually sees an average of 10 avalanche fatalities in a single calendar year, according to Horton.

Forecasters have compared this season's snowpack to conditions seen two decades ago, during the season 25 people lost their lives in B.C.'s backcountry.

People heading into the backcountry are urged to check the avalanche forecast and make conservative decisions about the terrain they choose to explore. An avalanche transceiver, snow probe and snow shovel are essential, according to officials, along with practice in their use.

Avalanche fatalities in B.C.