Whistler Search and Rescue has received a boost to its annual budget this year, thanks to a large donation from a recent lawsuit settlement.
The organization received a total of $54,000 after Maxwell Buhler, president of Whistler Snowboard Tours, chose the group as the recipient of money from a class action suit against Whistler Cable Television Ltd.
This is the first time in Canadian history that a plaintiff was able to select who the recipient of a settlement surplus would be.
“You guys are heroes who don’t get much publicity,” said Buhler at the Search and Rescue (SAR) meeting Tuesday night.
“I really want to thank you for what you do, and I think these dollars really are best spent by you,” he said.
Buhler added that he chose SAR because of the organization’s commitment to thinking globally, acting locally, and wanting to make a difference in the community.
The money comes from a lawsuit Buhler filed against Whistler Cable two years ago. Buhler alleged the company was overcharging clients. A settlement was reached between the two groups in February, and $70,000 was put aside to reimburse those who were part of the suit. The deadline to join the suit was in August. Notices were posted in local papers for three weeks.
Part of the agreement was that any money left over from the fund would go to SAR. Only a few people applied for a reimbursement, leaving $54,000 for the local non-profit.
Buhler said that it is positive that so many people opted out of the settlement, since it allows such a large amount of money to go to Search and Rescue.
Whistler Cable was sold to Shaw Cable last year.
Ted Pryce-Jones, secretary of Whistler SAR, said he is thankful for the money, which will be used to help fund the group’s operations.
“We’re just really grateful that he thought of us as someone to donate to as a worthy cause,” said Pryce-Jones.
“Given the business that he is in, it is a good fit because we’ll end up rescuing some of his clients at some point in time. It is a bit of a thank you back, and we really, really appreciate the fact that he thought of us,” he said.
According to Pryce-Jones, the group rescues between 20 and 40 people every year and operates on an annual budget of about $35,000.
“It is mostly donations from people we rescued, and we’ve done some fundraising. We did get a lot of grants this year,” said Pryce-Jones.
“The main source is we have a fundraising dinner in October every year. That is the biggest source of our funds, and the rest is donations and all the things like that,” he said.
He added that the lawsuit money is definitely needed by the organization, and will probably go to help outfit the group’s new headquarters with tables, chairs, filing cabinets, and other things needed for an office environment.
Whistler SAR is currently building a new office. The space will be three times the size of the trailer the group currently occupies in Whistler’s Public Works Yard and will include better training equipment, such as an indoor rock climbing wall.
The municipality is funding the $400,000 project, and construction is slated to be complete by next month.
Pryce-Jones said that purchasing communication equipment for the group, such as radios and GPS units, is also a possibility.
Whistler SAR is a non-profit group of trained mountain and avalanche rescue men and women who dedicate their time to rescuing people who get lost or stranded in the nearby mountains. It is run completely by volunteers.
Pryce-Jones reminded people to be responsible while they are
skiing and snowboarding this winter.
“Be careful out there, and tell people where you are going if you are going out of bounds. Be prepared. And always be on alert for the avalanche conditions in the backcountry,” he said.