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One skier dead; eight others rescued in separate incidents in out-of-bounds areas on Blackcomb and Whistler mountains

Whistler Search and Rescue received four calls for assistance on Wednesday, March 8
Whistler Search and Rescue volunteers extricated eight skiers from out-of-bounds areas on Whistler Mountain on Wednesday, March 8.

Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) received a total of four requests for assistance on Wednesday, March 8, resulting in one person dead and eight others extricated safely from out-of-bounds areas on Whistler Mountain.

What turned out to be one of the busiest days so far this winter for WSAR volunteers began with a call to the back side of DOA, a popular couloir outside the ski area boundary on Blackcomb Mountain, to help an unconscious skier. 

"It was at a ski touring party of two and the one in the back had suffered a medical emergency—likely a heart attack, but we don't know," said WSAR president Brad Sills. "He collapsed; the friend in front was unaware for a bit of time and then turned around to see where his friend was, and discovered him in the snow." 

An off-duty Blackcomb patroller in the vicinty was carrying a radio and called for help. Both patrol and WSAR attended and transported the man, believed to be a Vancouver resident, to the Whistler Health Care Centre. "Unfortunately, he did not survive," said Sills.

The incident emphasizes the importance of having first-aid knowledge, particularly in the backcountry, said Sills. 

"You just never know when you're going to run into a situation, and with the number of people that are in the backcountry, these kinds of incidents are not uncommon anymore. It's a really good investment of time," he said, adding, "You just never know when you're going to be able to save somebody's life.

"Unfortunately, not this time, but it wasn't for lack of trying."

Seven skiers longlined to safety after getting stuck out-of-bounds on Whistler Mountain

Early Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the tragic incident on Blackcomb, WSAR was summoned to the opposite side of Fitzsimmons Creek by Whistler patrollers who received a call from two fathers stuck on the south side of Whistler Mountain alongside their five teenagers. 

From Whistler's peak, the group of American tourists "had skied down, close to the Cake Hole, and I guess the kids had gotten too low and couldn't come back up again," Sills explained. The group found themselves on top of a cliff face, with nowhere to go.

WSAR ultimately rescued all seven skiers by helicopter longline. Crews were able to double up a couple of the teenagers, but the rescues were mostly conducted one at a time. "I think that was the most number of people we've longlined out in a single sequence," Sills said. 

With darkness approaching, the skiers were dropped off one-by-one on Whistler's peak—"because we didn't have time to take them anywhere else," explained Sills—before skiing back down to the valley with a patrol escort. 

Lost skier located in treed-area off Whistler's Peak to Creek 

As WSAR was wrapping up the series of longline rescues, volunteers received a call for assistance from their counterparts at Pemberton Search and Rescue. They had received an inReach activation from a climber stranded on Mount Duke, in the Duffey Lake area. Fortunately, the climber "somehow ... managed to extricate himself from whatever situation he was in," before WSAR arrived, said Sills. 

Still, even after sunset, WSAR's day wasn't done. At 7:30 p.m., crews learned about a skier who was lost after heading skier's left off Whistler Mountain's Peak to Creek run. The man was disoriented but uninjured near Million Dollar Ridge, a treed area outside the ski-area boundary but within the resort's controlled recreation area. 

"He spent some time lost back in there. It wasn't until 10:30 at night that two Whistler SAR members and Whistler ski patrol were able to find him and bring him out," said Sills. The skier was able to make his way back down to the valley once he was pointed in the right direction. 

Receiving that number of calls in a single day is rare, but not entirely unheard of, said Sills. "In the last three or four years, we've had days like this previously," he said. "It's just a good reminder to everyone: [try not to] get in trouble in the backcountry, because quite often, we can get really backed up, and you might be spending the night outside just because we can't get to you or we're too busy."

Sills reiterated the importance of carrying essentials like extra clothing, food, water and a flashlight when heading beyond the boundary rope. Visit AdventureSmart's website for more safety tips to keep in mind before venturing into the backcountry this winter.