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RCMP seek more money for rescue operations

Police say last weekend’s helicopter rescue highlights issue


Alison Taylor and Clare Ogilvie

Whistler RCMP wants more money from the province to help pay for backcountry search and rescue operations.

The need for extra provincial funds was highlighted again last week after three snowboarders were plucked from an out of bounds area on the backside of Whistler Mountain.

Staff Sergeant Norm McPhail is asking the province for a $25,000 fund over and above his regular police budget. He hopes to have it in place by April.

This year alone, he said, Whistler police have spent $10,000 searching for lost skiers and boarders in the backcountry.

"There's an extraordinary pressure that has been there for years that relates to search and rescue operations," said McPhail.

"My solution is (to see if) I can secure a $25,000 fund (from the province) that takes that pressure off because I must balance my budget."

He explained that while the Provincial Emergency Program picks up the tab for the rescue portion of each incident, Whistler police are left to foot the bill for the search. There is no mechanism in place to collect that money from the people who have been rescued.

This latest rescue, which took place overnight Thursday, Feb. 10, cost approximately $5,000. The Whistler RCMP portion is about $1,800.

It all started when three boarders decided to dip down the back of Whistler Mountain to traverse to other runs.

Shannon Lysyk, 19, and 22-year-old Jake Croden were heading to Peak to Creek together. Christine Dewulf, 24, wanted to get to Harmony.

But all went too far down and before they knew it they were stuck and lost. Dewulf found Croden and Lysyk and the three Whistler residents decided to stick together to find a way out.

They hiked around for about four-and-a-half hours. They couldn’t call for help as there was no cell phone reception.

As darkness fell Lysyk felt a twinge of panic set in. It was —10 Celsius, she and her two snow boarding companions were soaking wet and had only one bottle of water between them.

Finally they got phone reception and they were able to call for help. But it was too dangerous to rescue them that night so the trio were told to find a place to hunker down and a helicopter would come for them in the morning.

"I was scared," Lysyk recalled this week.

"I was so scared. It was so cold and I didn’t know how much colder it was going to get. I just knew it was going to get worse."

Said Dewulf: "We were constantly shaking and our teeth were chattering.

"Our toes got so cold we would remind each other every 15 minutes all night to move them."

Croden, who came from Australia to work here for the season, doesn’t remember much about the night.

"Apparently I was in a pretty bad way through the night so I don’t really remember much about it," he said.

"I think I was really cold and shutting down. The girls told me I was pretty bad."

At first light the trio called search and rescue again and were told helicopters would be there as soon as possible.

"It was the best sound I have ever heard," said Lysyk of the helicopters circling above them mid morning Friday.

The boarders had to be hoisted into the helicopters using a long line as it was impossible to land the helicopter.

Luckily all three were fine.

Out of bounds areas are clearly marked by Whistler Blackcomb so it is worrying, said spokeswoman Christina Moore, that people continue to duck under the rope without proper gear, such as food, water, dry clothes and even avalanche rescue equipment.

Lysyk and Croden said that’s likely to be their last out of bounds experience unless they are prepared or can see the in-bound runs from where they are.

Lysyk offered this warning to others hoping to enjoy the powder beyond the ropes: "Don’t do what we did. Stay on the trails, stay where you can see people.

"And if you are going out of bounds you’ve got to know where you are going and be prepared."

Dewulf said the next time she heads to the hills she will carry a pack with extra gloves, hat, food, and some water.

"I’m going to make a point of that every time," she said.

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