Opinion » Editorial

Backcountry warnings



Mother Nature can be a cruel partner.

She'll blow in and bless the backcountry mountains with powder enticing the adventure seeker in all of us to strike out and play.

Then in the same breath the very veil she coats our playground with will, with raging force, become a tomb or a weapon of death.

I've lost count now of how many times I have written about those taken in the backcountry, how many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends I have interviewed about those lost.

They always seem to be the "good ones, dying doing something they loved" — a comfort for some I suppose.

Each and every year newsrooms wait for the news of the first avalanche death in B.C. It seems as inevitable as the very snow, which is always the precursor to the story.

What, I wondered last Friday as I worked to find out more about Whistler's first avalanche death victim Duncan MacKenzie, would it be like for just one year not to have to write this story.

Not to try and second-guess why these vivacious lovers of nature push the limit too far and pay with their lives.

Not to try and imagine what it must be like for our RCMP officers to tell the family a thousand miles away that a loved one is dead.

Not to try and understand why our search and rescue volunteers push their own safety boundaries in an effort to reach someone who needs them before darkness falls.

Last year Whistler Search and Rescue went out more than 30 times with March being the busiest month. The calls involved 42 missing people and search and rescue consumed more than 1,283 hours of volunteer time. Helicopters were used in 23 of those searches. The most common demographic for searches were males aged 18 to 29, though there was an increase in the number of women and older people requiring rescues as well.

If the provincial government were to replace the volunteer SAR resources across B.C. it is estimated that it would cost in excess of $5 million in direct annual salary dollars.

There is no doubt that more and more people are heading into the backcountry to recreate and that is a great thing. It also partly explains why rescue numbers have climbed provincially. British Columbia is one of the most beautiful places on earth so it is easy to understand the draw it has on those of us who long for nature without the stamp of civilization.

But surely there must be a responsibility upon all those who head out of bounds to be able look after themselves, be able to self-rescue and to make decisions that do not put lives at risk.