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search and rescue

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By Amy Fendley It could be awhile before a financial solution on how to help the province’s 77 volunteer search and rescue teams is found. Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh has asked for public input on five proposals to help search and rescue teams, which are facing "new challenges because of an increasing population, more tourism and the growing popularity of high-risk outdoor sports." The five options are: o a surcharge of .5 per cent on outdoor equipment o a surcharge of 25 cents on ski lift tickets o fines for people who ignore warning signs and go out of bounds o suspension of ski lift ticket privileges o a combination of surcharges, fines and suspensions Whistler search and rescue team member and treasurer, Cliff Jennings, says that taxing rescues isn’t going to help anybody. "A surcharge is just a tax," says Jennings. "The province has never designated anything for a specific purpose. I don’t think it’s a good idea. If they’re going to charge people for going out of bounds and breaking the rules, that’s fine, but not if they’re just going to tax everyone." Since the beginning of the 1998-99 ski season, the Whistler search and rescue team has conducted a lot of relatively minor searches. Searches where the assistance of only five or six of the 22 members is required. "We’ve had about 20 minor rescues," says Jennings. "The real big ones are the multi-day ones and there is usually less chance of finding anybody. If we get a big one, we get mutual-aid, where other teams come and assist, and vice versa." Most of Whistler’s rescues have taken place in the Fitzsimmons drainage, the Cakehole and the popular new Frontier Pass off the Peak Chair. And the all too familiar reason for someone getting lost: "I wasn’t paying attention." "Skiers just ski off and aren’t paying attention," says Don Biggar, a 24-year Whistler search and rescue veteran. "It isn’t so much the backcountry, because most people who go backcountry skiing have some idea of what they’re doing. Generally people just ski off into the unknown, not knowing they’re in the unknown." The majority of funding for Whistler search and rescue comes through donations and a contribution from the RMOW. Team members have concerns that if the government implements surcharges, donations will stop, and bureaucracy will gain complete control of their funding. "People will think they’re paying already and our donations will stop," says Jennings. "Everything will go right into provincial coffers and we won’t see a penny of it." David Perry, vice president of marketing and sales for Whistler Blackcomb, shares the same feeling that a surcharge on lift tickets and equipment would be just another tax. "Search and rescue is a great organization that does very viable work," said Perry. "The provincial government is looking for a funding solution but has not come up with a fair and equitable one. All users of the mountains and users of equipment are to be penalized for the actions of a small few. We are strongly opposed to that." Perry suggests that province should study the method in which European search and rescue teams are funded. "In some parts of Europe you can purchase insurance cards," says Perry. "If you choose not to buy an insurance card, you pay for the cost of your rescue. The money raised from the sale of cards goes to fund search and rescue. "We get missing people all the time, people who go out of bounds," he says. "They are usually very happy to pay, and are happy to be alive and rescued. The core assumption that all must pay a penalty is erroneous. Why should people who use ski resorts be asked to foot the bill? "Whistler/Blackcomb, with the Canada West Ski Areas Association, are collectively opposing this proposal, because we feel strongly that this is the wrong thing to do."

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