A British woman who broke her back in a fall on Blackcomb Mountain earlier this month is warning other foreign nationals to be properly insured after incurring at least $60,000 in surgical and other medical charges.
Sara Baker fell seven metres onto a rocky area within bounds on Blackcomb Glacier after mistakenly snowboarding to what she thought was a safe stopping spot and going over a ledge.
Baker, 30, who has spent three-and-a-half of the last four years at the resort on both visitor and work visas, most recently worked for Whistler Dine In. Describing herself as an experienced, competent snowboarder, she said her accident occurred on a "bluebird day out" with friends. The snow that would normally have cushioned her fall somewhat had been blown away.
"I understand they can't rope off every little area of the mountain. I was totally responsible (for the accident).... It was one of those things, everyone (needs to) be aware," she said.
"You can't rely on (seeing) there's ski tracks there and no 'danger cliff' signs. I know that normally this is just a little tiny slope up to roll, that's how it normally is. But (with the weather) it changes every single day. Overnight."
Baker praised ski patrol, which stabilized her back and got her off the mountain by helicopter.
Along with completely shattering her L3 vertebra and crushing several other vertebrae and other fractures, she injured her pelvis and her liver. She is currently in a back brace and says she is lucky to be able to walk.
Baker said medical bills from the Feb. 2 accident have totalled about $35,000 to date and could go up after speaking to her surgeon later this week at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver about a possible second operation. The cost of a flight back to the U.K. that will allow her to lie flat will need to be added to costs, she said.
Baker said she has never failed to buy insurance in the past but a family crisis in December meant that she was distracted and forgot to do so when she bought her flight.
"I was convinced I was covered, but I haven't been able to find the papers and I was so busy at the time that it looks like I didn't. I remember sitting at the computer with my credit card, " she said.
Now friends in Whistler and in her U.K. hometown of Birmingham have teamed up for a fundraising event due to take place in Birmingham on March 15.
Whistler artist Chili Thom, who was with Baker when she fell, is donating a painting to be sold off by silent auction in Birmingham. A snowboard donated by J.F. Giasson will also be auctioned. The British reggae band UB40, also from Birmingham, is making a contribution.
Currently there are no plans for any fundraising events in Whistler, said Baker, though several of her friends have suggested this.
Baker says her experience is a cautionary tale for other foreign visitors.
"I'm usually so cautious, my mother has always told me how important this is. I can't say enough how much people need to be sure they are fully covered."