Whistler Search and Rescue has one message for skiers and snowboarders looking to explore the backcountry: be prepared.
That warning is in response to seven people who went missing in a six-day period over the Christmas holiday season. All seven were found safe and uninjured after spending a night on the mountains.
“I think people are getting lured outside by their appetite for snow — and perhaps it has not been publicized enough yet about what the usual payment is for that if you are not prepared,” said Brad Sills manager of Whistler Search and Rescue.
“People need to know that if they are going to ski out of bounds, they need to know that they have to be prepared for that,” he said.
One of the people who went missing was a 21-year-old Japanese skier on Christmas Eve. Sills said when SAR found the man near Piccolo on Whistler Mountain, he was “just hours from not making it.”
The man was suffering from mild hypothermia and was taken to the Whistler medical clinic for treatment after being found around noon on Christmas day.
“For us, it is a real sort of eye opener and reminder that you can only get lucky so many times before somebody picks up the dinner tab,” said Sills.
He added: “We really don’t like to cut it that fine when there is somebody in that dire need. That is why we are so adamant about making sure you understand what you are doing.”
The skier later told RCMP and SAR workers that it was his first day on the mountain, and he could not find his way back after he lost the group he was with.
The next day, Dec. 26, two more people went missing while snowboarding on Blackcomb Mountain. They sent a text message to a friend in the United States, who contacted the Whistler RCMP.
The SAR team was contacted and waited until the first light the next morning to begin the search. The two 27-year-old men where found at about 9 a.m. Dec. 27 via helicopter. They were in the Decker Meadows area outside the Blackcomb boundary.
“They were fine and didn’t need to go to a hospital,” said Sgt. Steve LeClair.
“They were cold when we found them, but they built a snow cave and lined it with branches, which they slept in that night,” he said.
The men had followed another group of snowboarders out of bounds but had lost sight of them in the fog and were unable to find their way out on their own.