By Clare Ogilvie
An out of bounds fatality has search and rescue members once again warning people not to head into the backcountry unless they know what they are doing.
“People cannot go out of bounds without knowledge, preparation, telling others where they are headed, and going with people who are knowledgeable,” said Brad Sills, head of Whistler’s Search and Rescue.
“It is absolutely foolish to travel out there by yourself and this (fatality) unfortunately is the result. It is what everyone has been warning people about.
“If you think you are going to go outside those boundaries with a little bit of knowledge you are clearly running this risk.”
Last Sunday SAR discovered the body of 34-year-old Roch Langlois of Quebec alongside Wedge Creek, on the Green Lake side.
It’s likely he died of extreme exposure, said Sills, given the evidence found by the rescuers. An autopsy was to be performed.
No one will ever know why Langlois headed out of bounds off Blackcomb Mountain. He left his friends at the top of the Crystal Chair at about 2: 30 p.m. Thursday March 1 st .
But as search and rescue members followed first his ski tracks down the north side of the mountain, then found his abandoned skis near the creek before following meandering ski boot footprints back up the slope it was clear the tourist was confused.
“It was indicative of irrational behaviour,” said Sills.
By the time SAR was in the air and on the ground Sunday Langlois hadn’t been seen for two and a half days.
His friends had reported him missing to RCMP March 2 but, said RCMP Cst. Ann Marie Gallop, “they weren’t overly concerned about him.” Police launched the search after contacting the friends, who were staying in Squamish, on Saturday and finding Langlois to still be missing.
Believed to be an only child, Langlois had been dealing with personal issues, said Sills, which may have contributed to his decision-making. And he had been known to go off on his own for a couple of days at a time.
When rescuers initially found the tracks they had every hope of finding Langlois alive. It hadn’t been that cold, hardly any fresh snow had fallen and people have survived up to six days when lost in the backcountry.
Before heading out Sunday morning at first light Sills had spent Saturday night calling anyone who uses the search area backcountry, including heli-skiing companies, park rangers and others as well as speaking with the friends and family of Langlois.
Sills learned that Langlois was an expert skier but had no knowledge of the terrain he was skiing into — it was his first day on Blackcomb — had little if any backcountry gear, and had skied out of bounds the day before on Grouse Mountain.
The search used three helicopters, volunteer SAR members from Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton, the RCMP and other responders. It had to be big, said Sills, since they had no idea where he was when they started looking.
Despite these circumstances Sills believes it was only a matter of time before a backcountry user met their maker this year, based on the large number of calls for rescue so far.
“We have already done our annual average and there is months of winter left,” said Sills, adding they are responding to 10 to 15 calls a week.
SAR evaluates every call and responds appropriately and with so many calls this year the volume has been taxing volunteers and others on the front lines.
The situation is also complicated by the very nature of the searches. Last week SAR and the RCMP responded to a call about an avalanche on Mt. Fee in the Brandywine area. Because it couldn’t be determined if anyone was at risk three helicopter companies were called in, along with SAR volunteers, as part of an air search and calls were made to all the user groups in the area too.
“So huge amounts of money, huge amounts of volunteer time and effort were spent and there was exposure to risk just to determine that yes, there had been an avalanche, yes, they had got out of it and were all OK,” said Sills.
What Sills would like to see happen is people who self rescue call into 911 and let everyone know they are OK so resources can be saved for other rescues.
Many of the rescues call on Whistler-Blackcomb staff and equipment too. According to Dave Reid, a safety supervisor for the mountains, their call volume hasn’t been too bad this year.
Nevertheless he and other are working to get the message out that heading out of bounds means users are on their own.
“Once you pass the boundary of our mountain it is wilderness terrain,” said Reid. “No avalanche hazard reduction work is done, nothing is controlled out there, there are no warnings, there is no signage and many of the routes that seem obvious can quickly become impassable because of cliffs or snow conditions.
“Once you step outside the boundary all those little safety blankets that you would take for granted in bounds are gone. People need to remember that.”