The never-ending story 

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You never think it's going to happen to you... until it does.

No one ever thinks they're going to be the one to wind up in the Cake Hole or too far down Khybers on the backside of Whistler Mountain... until they're there — lost, cold, scared, trying to stay alive in dangerous backcountry terrain, trying to find the way to Cheakamus Lake before the long slog back to Function Junction.

Just last week, local resident Tim Regan spoke about his own experience spending a frigid night outside with his son and two others, totally unprepared, after making the wrong turn off Piccolo Ridge. He shared his story to warn others just how easy it is for things to go wrong steps beyond the boundaries, even when you have no intentions of going out of bounds.

Before Regan's story even hit the newsstands, another group of four skiers were rescued from the area as well as a lone snowboarder, who posted on Facebook about his ordeal.

Nolan Molfetta was lost for close to 24 hours, found by Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) after a night in the elements.

His heartfelt Facebook post, with more than 600 likes, generated dozens of comments this week.

There is, however, nothing new, nothing special about Molfetta's story. It's the same one over and over and over again.

And that begs the question: Has the Cake Hole, and areas on the south side of Whistler Mountain, become such a familiar rescue story here that we have become so terribly blasé about the whole ordeal?

It was so easy to do, said Molfetta, following those tracks beyond the rope. He'd done it once before with a friend, thought he knew where he was going.

And then... the tracks simply disappeared.

"I got out there," he said, "and I realized that I had no survival skills."

The manager of WSAR Brad Sills said there are people getting lost on the south side of Whistler Mountain on an almost daily basis.

Many slog it out on their own steam, arriving on the highway dazed and confused after gruelling hours of essentially fighting for their lives.

Others are rescued, long lined to safety by Search and Rescue.

No one is prepared for just how dreadful the terrain is — impassable cliff bands, the mountain pulling you down deeper away from civilization, tight, awful, wild, steep, unforgiving ground, avalanches threatening in the background.

"You might as well be in the North Pole... if you're in trouble back there," said Sills.

Well, here's another story. It's the kind of story you don't forget about in the newsroom, even though we write about them all too often, the kind of story that stays with you, even now, more than 10 years on.

It was mid-January 2005.

Kim Jae Dong was a Korean student living in Vancouver and taking English courses. He had a pass for Whistler Blackcomb where he loved to go snowboarding. He was riding on Wednesday, Jan. 12 and the last time his friends saw him he was in the Roundhouse.

The following day, about one hour after he was reported missing, RCMP air services spotted a snowboard near a hole in the ice on Cheakamus Lake.

His body was found along the Cheakamus River on Saturday, Jan. 15. Kim Jae Dong was 25 years old.

The details are irrelevant for they are all maddeningly the same — in the backcountry, lost and unprepared.

This is all a numbers game — some will win and others won't.

And yet, this is a game in which no one is playing by the rules.

Sills said people should be skiing or riding with a backpack complete with clothes, matches, food, a light, a whistle.

Even if you have no intention of going out of bounds, like Regan, there's something about that terrain — it sucks you down, past the ropes, past the boundary signs, lured by the vague sense that if you do get stuck, you'll eventually hit the road and then find your way to Function. How bad can it be on the edge of the best ski resort in the world?

Molfetta was 10 kilometres from Function Junction when he was found by search and rescue. He couldn't feel his toes, blocks of ice encased his boots and bindings. His hands weren't faring much better. Exhausted. Cold. Hungry. Hypothermia is a stealthy enemy — search and rescue have seen it all before.

This is what Molfetta said on Facebook this week: "I came out with a taste of hypothermia and frostbite on my fingers and toes. But I came out alive, and, that night, as I slept in a nice warm bed, the world celebrated the start of 2016, a year I wasn't sure I would see. Please be careful out there."

And don't be another story.


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