Avalanche casualties stress SARs 

SAR urges awareness of avalanche bulletins, prudent decision making in the backcountry

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BONNY MAKAREWICZ - resources tappedSearch and Rescue teams in Sea to Sky are urging extreme caution following a series of backcountry avalanches that left one dead and several injured.
  • Photo BY bonny makarewicz
  • resources tappedSearch and Rescue teams in Sea to Sky are urging extreme caution following a series of backcountry avalanches that left one dead and several injured.

It's just not worth the risk right now. Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton Search and Rescue (SAR) Teams are asking backcountry users to think twice before heading out, as volunteers respond to an unprecedented number of incidents.

SAR resources have been pushed to the limit recently with two responses on Monday, Jan 2, just days after a fatal avalanche in the Casper Creek area involving Whistler ski patroller Duncan MacKenzie. Another avalanche rescue also took place Monday near Tyax, though TLH Heli-sking handled it.

"This is definitely stretching the capabilities of search and rescue," said Dave Steers from Pemberton SAR.

"If we are in process of responding to two avalanches and a third call comes in..."

The unusually high number of responses on Monday raises the question of whether some parties heading out into the backcountry are actually assessing the dangers before they go.

"It's of concern to all of us when you get three avalanche responses for four subjects in the space of four hours" said Brad Sills from Whistler SAR.

"This is probably unprecedented. We've never responded to three separate locations in that time frame."

The situation prompted Sills to send out a press release, only the second in more than 35 years with WSAR.

In it he said: "Squamish, Whistler, (and) Pemberton SAR Teams... wish to express their alarm at the level of disregard being displayed by a segment of backcountry recreation user groups who seemingly ignore the hazard levels as published daily by the Canadian Avalanche Association.

"The teams are urging public users of the backcountry to be more prudent in their decision making when travelling in avalanche terrain."

The best source of information for avalanche conditions is the Canadian Avalanche Centre's public bulletins found at avalanche.ca. Sills said it appears that people are either ignoring the warnings or believe they can manage the risks. While there is always an element of luck involved, some backcountry travellers may be overestimating their abilities.

"There seems to be a disregard for the CAC's public bulletin," said Sills.

"For whatever reason (people) are disregarding it and they are disregarding it at their own personal peril. You don't get away with that very long."

Another storm has brought additional snow to the region and while the current weather will keep many ski tourers from going out, when the skies clear the current avalanche danger will persist for a number of days.

"One of my (avalanche) guys said the snow right now more resembles the snow in Rogers Pass that he's used to," said Steers.

"Because the snowpack is different it tends to be fooling people who are used to our relatively more stable coastal snowpack," he said.

At the time of publication the CAC avalanche advisory for the Sea to Sky region was rated "High" trending towards "Considerable" with chances of avalanches "Likely" to "Very Likely". Similarly high dangers were listed for Whistler Blackcomb's avalanche advisory.


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