Search and Rescue calls high 

Calls likely to exceed annual average

Just three months into 2011, Whistler Search and Rescue is already closing in on its annual average for calls that require members to respond.

"Last year we had about 27 calls, and we're coming up on that quickly," said WSAR manager Brad Sills.

"I think if we have another two nice weekends we'll probably beat that."

The Search and Rescue calls vary from searches and rescues involving lost people to retrieving trapped and injured individuals from the backcountry.

With a deeper than average snow pack in the alpine, Sills said his Search and Rescue team is concerned that weak layers created during November's arctic outflow will create an avalanche hazard once the sun and warmer air heat up the snow.

"The (weak layers) are still there, sitting pretty much on the ground - who knows what will happen when the sun warms it up?" said Sills.

As for the number of calls, Sills said it could be stressful for volunteer crews.

"It certainly stresses the team, no doubt about that - and not just the volume of calls, sometimes the enormity of the trauma involve can be hard," he said.

"The whole mechanized recreation scene with snowmobiling is a big part of it. The injuries are significant and can be overwhelming at times."

The Search and Rescue crews have noted that the availability of powerful sleds second-hand has resulted in a lot of new people getting into the sport of snowmobiling.

"So now you have people with a limited skill set being introduced to the sport, who are able to get right up to the top of Powder Mountain with as little as an hour experience... which was once an alpine-guided terrain," said Sills.

Most of the snowmobile operators are prepared with avalanche transceivers and kits, Sills added, but a lack of knowledge of the terrain is causing some issues.

On Tuesday, Search and Rescue hosted a joint exercise with other corridor Search and Rescue teams, as well as BC Parks, the RCMP, the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association, Whistler Blackcomb Ski Patrol, Whistler Olympic Park patrollers and the B.C. Ambulance Service. The training session included swiftwater, avalanche, rope rescue and ground search components.

Sills said the co-operation is necessary.

"We're reaching out to our neighbouring teams and doing more practicing to get a larger set of volunteers that are familiar with alpine terrain," he said. "All of our strengths are different. In Squamish it's geared towards rock and Pemberton's biggest strength is swiftwater (rescue). We do a lot of winter alpine calls, so it's good that we can cross train - we acquire their skills, and we hope we can share with them so they can play a more meaningful role in our rescues."



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