Whistler Search and Rescue is reminding people not to ski or board alone if possible.
“Whenever you are skiing in the woods whether it is in bounds or out of bounds you shouldn’t be alone,” said SAR manager Brad Sills this week.
The warning comes following the Sunday discovery of the body of Ai Ito, the Japanese language student who went missing while snowboarding solo March 20.
Sills said he believes she was going down Lakeside, off 7 th Heaven, and got disoriented, perhaps in poor visibility, and ended up skiing out of bounds, down towards the drainage into Fitzsimmons Creek.
Only an intermediate boarder, it is unlikely Ito meant to head out of bounds. The area also had no cell phone reception, though that day the International House student had left her phone and personal belongings in her school locker.
The cause of death is yet to be determined but she “was presenting as a case of typical exposure,” said Sills.
“It is certainly not our intention to keep people from enjoying the backcountry, but people need to do so with respect. It is a big mountain environment and it deserves our respect and so you need to know what you are doing and you need to be prepared and you really should never ski alone.”
Staff on Blackcomb Mountain discovered Ito’s body Sunday afternoon.
“We have had Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog teams up there every day since she went missing,” said Whistler RCMP Cst. Afzeel Yakub.
“They found the snowboard at around 2:30 p.m. and a helicopter was sent up and she was spotted around 4:30 p.m.”
The evidence at the scene suggests that she ended up in an area she couldn’t board in, eventually abandoned her board and then tried to hike around to get out. She then slipped down into one of the streams, which feed the Fitzsimmons Creek. Exhausted, she likely lay back to rest at the edge of the stream and never woke up. She was found with her mittens and hat and jacket tightly done up and likely succumbed to exposure.
At the time she disappeared temperatures at night were dipping to –15C and over 60 centimetres of fresh snow fell during the main search days. The area where she was found had been searched previously but the fresh snow had covered her.
The search for Ito, a 25 year old who had been studying English in Whistler since February, was one of the largest ever launched in Whistler. At its peak close to 40 searchers were combing Blackcomb, along with several RCMP and avalanche rescue dog teams.
Ito was last seen on Thursday, March 20, the day before the Good Friday-Easter Monday long weekend. Her homestay family did not report her missing to the RCMP until Sunday, March 23, when a search was launched. It was common for Ito to stay overnight with friends on the weekend said Yakub.
Family members came to Whistler while the search was under way. It’s expected that Ito’s remains will be returned to Japan as soon as possible.