Snowmobiling accident serves as reminder to backcountry enthusiasts 

Spouse of injured Langley man speaks out

click to enlarge FACEBOOK PHOTO - Experienced Snowmobiler Richard 'Chuckie' Smither was badly injured in an accident earlier this year.
  • Facebook Photo
  • Experienced Snowmobiler Richard 'Chuckie' Smither was badly injured in an accident earlier this year.

Richard "Chuckie" Smith had been a snowmobiler all his life.

"He was very experienced," said Andrea Tirshman, Smith's spouse of six years and mother of his two children.

"He's a small town boy, and was basically born on a snowmobile."

On April 13, Smith was sledding in the Brandywine Triconi area with some friends when he went over a cliff.

The resulting 60-metre drop left the Langley man in a vegetative state with a traumatic brain injury.

Though he's made some progress in the eight months since the accident, Smith is still considered non-responsive.

With snowmobile season about to start up again, Tirshman wants to remind everyone of the dangers of backcountry exploration.

"Just be aware of your surroundings," she said.

"You never can predict what's going to happen."

She also wants people to take the necessary measures should the unthinkable happen.

Smith had no living will, power of attorney for his family or life insurance.

"We had nothing in place... we always meant to, but just would never get around to it," Tirshman said.

"Definitely, I want to bring that awareness... especially if you're doing extreme sports and things like that. Or anything. Life can change really quickly, right?"

Whistler Search and Rescue manager Brad Sills wasn't on scene on the day of Smith's accident, but handled the call from base.

"As far as I recall it was a very nice day," he said.

Tirshman recalls similar conditions.

"He was in bounds. It was a beautiful bluebird day," she said.

"I don't know if maybe that was the cause of it too... maybe snowblindness or something? No one knows."

For Tirshman and her two children, aged one and four, life has never been the same.

For the past few months Smith has been undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy — a costly, controversial treatment for traumatic brain injuries.

"He's in about his 40th session," Tirshman said.

"He's still considered non-responsive, (but) he does open his eyes. He's starting to track people, and look at people, but he doesn't communicate yet."

Smith has no spinal cord damage but his brain injury prevents him from standing or moving his extremities.

"They'll move, but we don't know how much of it is voluntary," Tirshman said.

"So we're working on head control with him and physio right now. He can hold his head up for brief amounts of time and he's starting to turn his head."

After eight months in a hospital bed, Tirshman is trying to get Smith home for the holidays.

To do so would require renting the necessary hospital equipment and making some slight renovations to make their home more accessible.

"It's going to be a big deal, but it's well worth it I think to get him home," Tirshman said.

Beyond this year's holiday season, Tirshman is looking into buying some of the necessary equipment to make trips home for Smith more frequent.

"Right now it's temporary, with all the equipment and stuff, but after that I'm looking in January to purchase so that we can continue on doing weekends," Tirshman said.

She's also going to be taking some training so she can assist with his care.

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Anyone heading into the backcountry is instructed to go to the Canadian Avalanche Association public bulletins at to check snow conditions beforehand.

The BC Snowmobile Association offers safety courses. The local group Black Tusk Snowmobiles is offering safety classes early in January.

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