For the first time in nearly a decade, Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) is putting a call out for new members.
The non-profit organization, which assists the RCMP on a number of search and rescue efforts each year, is hoping to attract around a dozen new members before next ski season.
"We have a very stable team and we haven't taken any new members for eight years," said WSAR manager Brad Sills. "Over that time our call volume has gotten a lot higher and the numbers have indicated that (the province) would like to reduce that workload."
With an aging membership, WSAR is looking primarily for candidates in their 20s and 30s who plan to live in Whistler long term, have job flexibility and a passion for the backcountry. Rescue experience is an asset, but not necessary, as senior member Vincent Massey, one of three on the hiring committee, explained.
"Over-qualified people are not really what we're after," he said. "Sometimes (experience) can get in the way of how we do things. They have a vision of the way things should be done, and that's just not the way we've done it; we've grown to do things the way we do it."
An understanding of First Aid is a must, Sills said, as well as knowledge of the local backcountry's geography and topography. Eligible applicants must have obtained a minimum of Avalanche Skills Training Level 1, own a vehicle and hold a valid B.C. driver's license. With an increase in snowmobile-related rescues in recent years, Massey said that snowmobile experience is also an asset.
WSAR currently has 26 active volunteers, although around 10 of the organization's most senior members don't regularly go out on calls, Massey noted. Rescue efforts have not been hampered by the lack of available personnel in the past, Sills said, as WSAR calls on rescue crews from Pemberton, Squamish and North Shore when needed, as well as Whistler Blackcomb patrollers and trained members of the public.
Massey said WSAR has held two membership drives in the last 11 years, and estimated only three members have been retained from those campaigns.
The hiring committee has placed several ads in local publications calling for new members in recent weeks, and Sills expected greater interest from the community — the recruitment has been extended until May 31.
With much debate in B.C. recently over whether search and rescue personnel should be paid for their risky work, Sills hopes the voluntary nature of the job hasn't led to a drop in interest.
"The rewards from volunteering for search and rescue are enormous," he said. "I've been doing it for many, many years and how it's enriched my life is far greater than any monetary value."
Local search and rescue crews train on a weekly basis between September and June. It can take between two and three years to be fully trained as a mountain rescuer, Massey said.
Those interested can find an application form on www.whistlersar.com and are recommended to visit the BC Search and Rescue Association website at www.bcsara.com for further knowledge of the requirements and services provided.