Whistler RCMP believes that a 23-year-old Chinese woman found dead in Fitzsimmons Creek on March 29 was walking in the creek to avoid deep snow along the banks.
The woman, who was studying in Vancouver, came to Whistler on March 28 with a group of friends and left them just before noon to ride on her own. A staff member on Blackcomb Mountain remembers seeing the woman around 1 p.m. that day at the Pontiac GMC Race Centre before she disappeared.
She was reported missing around 6:45 p.m. on the 28th to the RCMP, which contacted ski patrol to find out if they had any information. They received a call back after 7 p.m., and a missing person's file was opened. Police conducted some vehicle and foot patrols, notified night operations and grooming departments on the mountains, and filled in a Subject Urgency Chart.
The chart is used to determine whether a risky night rescue is necessary, and takes into account things like temperatures, the age of the person, whether the person has any medical issues, how they were dressed and where they were last seen.
With no idea where to look and relatively warm temperatures that evening (just below zero degrees overnight), the RCMP determined there was no serious risk and mobilized Whistler Search and Rescue for a morning search. The search began at 7 a.m. with a helicopter joining the search. Tracks were found leading down from the 7th Heaven area, and the body was found at 10:30 a.m.
Police believe the woman got soaked in the creek as she tried to use it as a pathway to find her way off the mountain, becoming hypothermic. Her body was found between the sliding centre and the power station, close to help and an access road out. She was not equipped for travel in the backcountry and likely was lost.
She has not been identified. The RCMP confirmed her family was flying in.
The RCMP is using the tragedy to remind people who become lost in the backcountry to stay warm and dry. "If lost and unable to call for help they should keep out of the water as hypothermia is one of the greatest dangers they will face," wrote the RCMP in a release on the incident.
Whistler Blackcomb extended their condolences to the woman's family and friends, and reminded people to obey boundary and safety signage, and to always ski or ride with a partner. As well, meeting times and places should be discussed when heading up the mountain.