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SAR calls getting more "serious"

Search and Rescue, Whistler Blackcomb urge caution in "silly season"

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Sills could not agree more.

Of the 29 tasks SAR responded to between Feb. 15, 2011 and Feb. 22, 2012, all but two required helicopter operations. The medivacs included: four C-spines, two head injuries, eight fractured limbs, and two chest injuries.

The number of out-of-bounds skiers and ski mountaineers rose in call volumes substantially from last year, he said. And the biggest trauma was from the snowmobiling sector.

Where once the injured or lost parties were typically young males in the 18-29 year age group, now they're older. More females were part of rescues this year.

Sills calls it: "the changing face of recreation with an increased appetite for more exposure to risks and the tools to do them and the access to do them."

The manager, who has been with SAR for 35 years, said there has been a noticeable shift in patterns of behaviour during his time volunteering with the organization.

"Twenty years ago if you were going to huck yourself off a cornice you were probably going to do it in the ski area and if you had a negative consequence from that decision, you had medical aid right there," said Sills.

"Now we're seeing that same behaviour taken 20, 30, 40 kilometres away from the closest road."

His point: more and more people are engaging in what he calls "super hazardous recreational behaviour with no consequences as to what the outcome is going to be if something goes wrong."

He said a lot of that behaviour is driven by film — either commercial or amateur filmmakers for YouTube.

"We see kickers being built way back on the Ice Cap and they're gi-normous," said Sills.

And then, there is always just the pure lure of the backcountry. As in-bound areas on the mountains get tracked out faster than ever before, skiers and riders look for that thrill of fresh powder elsewhere.

Heighway said he doesn't ski risky stuff. He was equipped and prepared to ski the terrain he thought he was heading into. They simply took a wrong turn.

And with the benefit of hindsight, though there were savvy enough to have avalanche gear with them — avalanche trasceiver, probes, shovels — Heighway said he wished he had his Leatherman, a flashlight, a space blanket. That would have made the long night a bit more bearable.

Heighway was long-lined off the mountain and taken to the clinic at first light the next day.

He wasn't alone, however, that night. Across the valley, beyond Blackcomb two Swedish snowshoers were on the third day of a trip in the Spearhead when they too triggered an avalanche while travelling in white out conditions.

They too called for help, worried about going any further given the twitchy snow conditions. They were told to bed down. It was too late for rescue.