Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol Manager Bernie Protsch is busy coordinating yet another rescue out of Khyber’s Pass.
This is the third person lost in the out of bounds area in two days.
The frustration is evident as he contemplates once again pulling his patrollers from their tasks on mountain and sending them into the treed out-of-bounds area to show lost skiers the way home.
His reaction to Grouse Mountain recently charging two snowboarders for a similar out of bounds rescue:
“I think it’s great.
“It’s time that this became the benchmark in the ski industry.”
Grouse Mountain charged a father and son last week after they were rescued from a dangerous out of bounds area of the North Shore ski mountain. They were in waist deep powder as darkness fell and were finally plucked out of a gully in a high-risk avalanche zone at 9:30 p.m.
Not only was mountain staff involved in the rescue, North Shore Search and Rescue sent teams in despite the danger.
“They (the snowboarders) knew going in there would come with some risk,” said Andrea Scott, public relations and communications manager for Grouse. “Perhaps this (fine) is some incentive to respect the signage.”
This is the second time in as many years Grouse has sent out an invoice for an out of bounds rescue.
The decision is being applauded in Whistler where the out of bounds rescues are becoming more and more commonplace — ski area guests ducking under ropes with no equipment to look after themselves in the oft-hazardous conditions beyond the boundary lines.
Protsch said he bills people regularly for their rescue, based on how much time and how many resources Whistler-Blackcomb has to put into each case. Typically people will pay and, if not, a collection agency will come knocking on their door. The money goes back into Whistler-Blackcomb’s coffers.
But it’s the taxpayer who foots the bill when Whistler Search and Rescue is called in to help.
Brad Sills, manager of Whistler Search and Rescue, said they are above average in terms of the number of calls for rescue this year.
People, it would seem, are blatantly ignoring boundary signs and heading into areas completely unprepared to deal with their surroundings. These “Dial-A-Rescues”, as Sills calls them, are becoming commonplace when skiers and snowboarders find themselves lost and tired in an out of bounds area.
His volunteer teams cannot respond to these types of calls as they do not fall within their mandate. They are to respond to true calls for help or medical emergencies or people who are lost. Not those who are too tired to hike out.
“The public has to really wake up here and realize that there’s a cost associated with this,” Sills said.
“(Whistler Search and Rescue and Whistler-Blackcomb) are both struggling with this because people are abusing it. It has the potential to degrade the response to bona fide rescues.”
Jimmy Spencer of the Canada West Ski Areas Association said ski operators’ first consideration is always their guests and ensuring that they are safe. But the expenses can quickly mount when helicopters and personnel are called in to assist.
He asks people to consider the consequences before ducking under those ropes.
“I just wish that people would stop and think a little bit more,” he said. “There’s lots of good skiing within the ropes so why go out there.”
Grouse revoked the season passes of the father and son snowboarders and sent a bill for $2,500 for their rescue.