Up until recently, Dr. Lizanne Bussieres had never spent the night in a snow cave.
"Usually it's a tent," Bussieres said with a laugh. "But not a snow cave."
Interestingly enough, Bussieres' overnight excursion underneath the snow was by choice — as part of the last step in a nine-month training journey for Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR).
Bussieres was one of nine recruits to complete the extensive WSAR training last week.
"The experience was really amazing," she said. "It was a good team-building experience."
To WSAR manager Brad Sills, that team building is a big part of bringing new recruits aboard.
"It's huge," Sills said. "A lot of what we do you have to know intuitively that you trust the person that you're with, that they're going to be able to assist you if something goes wrong, and they've got eyes on you at all times.
"It's really, really important."
The last time WSAR brought on new members was eight years ago. When they put out the call for applications last May the response was overwhelming.
"We got 64 respondents," Sills recalled.
"In Whistler it's a bit of a challenge because everyone comes to the table fairly well trained as it is, and we just can't accept everybody, so we're in that unusual position of having to select members. We do a lot of that selection based on their ability to work as a team."
Since September, the nine recruits have been put through their paces as they worked through 23 training modules covering everything from navigation to weather and avalanche conditions.
The volunteer-based group now boasts 30 members. Aside from good team players, Sills said WSAR looks for people who are committed in the long run.
"Our team is very, very stable," he said. "People that decide to commit to this tend to do it for a very long period of time. Once they become a full member the team is committed to providing anywhere between six and eight thousand dollars worth of training and equipment to them, and that's all self funded so we don't take it lightly."
Even though the main training and orientation is over, the WSAR team still trains weekly, Bussieres said.
"We still undergo training every week, so nobody is sitting on their skills," she said. "We're just always updating and practicing some new skills, or skills that we have already."
And after every call the WSAR team responds to, Sills conducts a debriefing highlighting areas that could use improvement.
"I think it's very good that Brad is always critical, even though we think it was like a great rescue," Bussieres said. "He's always there asking 'what else could we have done better?'"