Trauma worsening in backcountry 

Whistler search and rescue team responds to 34 cases from Feb. 2012 to Feb. 2013

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVE STEERS - HELI-TIME Whistler Search and Rescue used helicopters on 31 of 34 calls during annual report period.
  • Photo by Dave Steers
  • HELI-TIME Whistler Search and Rescue used helicopters on 31 of 34 calls during annual report period.

Injuries in the backcountry are becoming more serious, says the manager of Whistler Search and Rescue.

"The snowmobiling incidents continue to be fairly severe in terms of trauma," said Whistler SAR team manager Brad Sills, reached ahead of the SAR Manager's Report presented at Tuesday night's Annual General Meeting.

"(We're seeing) multiple broken bones and collapsed lungs, things like that," he explained. "Gravity and velocity are two physical properties we should always be in awe of, and if you're riding a snowmobile at 80 kilometres an hour and the environment suddenly changes — you go over a windrow or something — that's an awful lot of force that's going to be exerted on your body.

"We see it both in extreme skiing and snowmobiling. Not everybody's cognizant of that. I don't think they would do those things in the conditions they do them sometimes if they thought about it. It amazes me that people would go that fast in poor light."

Statistically, the period between February 19, 2012 and Feb. 19, 2013 will rank around average in terms of calls for Whistler Search and Rescue, with the numbers fluctuating from a low of 24 to a high of 56 over the last 10 years. However, for the 34 calls that SAR members responded to, Sills said the level of trauma had increased noticeably. Snowmobiling is the main culprit, he said, and rescues are complicated by the fact that SAR teams have to travel further than in the past to respond.

In total, Whistler Search and Rescue received 70 calls during the annual reporting period. Of those calls, 34 resulted in the team mobilizing for searches and rescues, while the others were resolved in other ways. For example, if someone went missing on the backside of Whistler Mountain then search and rescue is notified even though there is a good chance the individual or group would ski or walk out on their own before morning.

Of those 34 calls, 31 required the use of helicopters, something Sills said is becoming more common as people head deeper into the backcountry than before.

Search and rescue calls consumed some 1,174 volunteer hours over the report year. Most cases required tactical responses due to injuries rather than searches, and medical evacuations by helicopter included five spinal injuries, three head injuries, five fractured limbs and two chest injuries.

Eight of the 34 calls were in response to snowmobile accidents, seven were in response to ski mountaineering accidents and five were in response to overdue skiers. The other calls were split between hikers, climbers, avalanches, overdue snowboarders, swiftwater searches, mountain biking accidents and motor vehicle accidents.

Four of the calls involved fatalities, including one cardiac arrest, one snowmobile death, one kayaker drowning and one combination of trauma and hypothermia. There were seven other cases that were considered critical.

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