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Update: Revelstoke SAR saves stranded Swedish family from Montana Creek area

Revelstoke Search & Rescue members stage on the Columbia River flats south of Revelstoke on Dec. 19 and prepare to lift and drop two overnight bags to stranded skiers in the Montana Creek drainage.  - Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review
Revelstoke Search & Rescue members stage on the Columbia River flats south of Revelstoke on Dec. 19 and prepare to lift and drop two overnight bags to stranded skiers in the Montana Creek drainage.
— image credit: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review

Update: Morning of Dec. 20

Revelstoke Search & Rescue (SAR) lifted a family of four skiers out of the Montana Creek drainage after sunrise on Dec. 20.

The Swedish father and his three sons aged 11, 15 and 17 were stuck overnight after ducking the boundary rope at Revelstoke Mountain Resort and then getting lost in the Montana Creek area. Revelstoke SAR had dropped off overnight bags for the group the night before by helicopter.

A rescue was not possible on Dec. 19 due to fading light and weather conditions.

Cpl. Thomas Blakney of the Revelstoke RCMP detachment said Revelstoke SAR used a helicopter long-line to lift the four out in pairs. They were checked over by paramedics at a staging area, but none needed attention at a hospital and were in good shape.

The family had just arrived in Revelstoke from Sweden on Dec. 18. It was their first day at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. Blakney said the family hadn't even got a run in before they opted to head out-of-bounds to ski.

They are described as advanced skiers.

Blakney said the group didn't leave the inbounds area at Revelstoke Mountain Resort by accident. "There was a rope there that they lifted up and went underneath," he reported.

The group got lost and attempted to walk out for several hours before calling for help.

Blakney said everyone was in good health, and the family group was planning to go heli-skiing from Revelstoke tomorrow.

For more, see our original story from Dec. 19 below. Following that, we've added a story from our Feb. 8, 2012 issue when we interviewed two other Swedish skiers who got lost in the same area last snow season.

Original story published Nov. 19 at 5:08 p.m.

Family of skiers trapped in Montana Creek area overnight

A man with his three sons aged 11, 15 and 17 will spend the night stranded in the forest near Revelstoke after the family ski group left the inbounds area on Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

Revelstoke RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Thomas Blakney said the party reported themselves missing to the ski resort by cell phone on the afternoon of Dec. 19. The group walked downhill for several hours after getting lost before they got stuck in a creek gully and called for help.

Revelstoke Search & Rescue located the group in the Montana Creek drainage area after talking with them by cell phone and hovering over them in a helicopter.

Due to fading light, rescuers were not able to lift the stranded group out using a long-line rescue.

Instead they dropped two large overnight bags to the group and provided instructions on how to use the tarps, sleeping bags, radio, stove, food and other supplies inside.

SAR will attempt a rescue in the morning after sunrise.

Cpl. Blakney said one of the boys was injured slightly when he was struck in the head by a chunk of ice knocked from a tree by the hovering helicopter. Blakney said the area is impossible to access in the dark safely, "They can't get in there tonight, even if it was a fatality," he said.

Each year, many people become stranded in the Montana Creek drainage area on the southwest side of Mount  Mackenzie at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

Skiers and snowboarders access out-of-bounds sidecountry area above the drainage, then proceed too far down the mountain to get back inbounds. The Montana Creek drainage steers skiers away from the bottom of the ski resort towards a wilderness area.

Although some lost skiers are able to walk themselves out of the area to a road on the bank of the Columbia River, many more become stuck and require rescue.

The hike out is particularly dangerous early in the season because there is less snow at lower elevations, forcing dangerous scrambles over icy rocks and windfall trees.

Temperatures in Revelstoke are forecast to drop to –3 C in Revelstoke overnight, although it will likely be somewhat colder than that at the elevation where the stranded party is hunkering down.

From our Feb. 8, 2012 issue:

Swedish skiers spend the night in Montana Creek drainage

By Aaron Orlando

Two Swedish visitors to Revelstoke are safe and healthy after spending the night stuck in the Montana Creek drainage area overnight between Feb. 4 and 5. Luckily, the temperatures didn’t drop too far below zero that night; other than the ski gear they were wearing and a lighter, the 24-year-olds weren’t prepared for the night out.

The Times Review managed to get in touch with the long-time friends in order to find out what went wrong, and hopefully gain some insight into why they got lost.

The pair didn’t want to use their real names, so we reluctantly agreed to change their names for this story after it became clear they wouldn’t do the interview using their real ones.

I met them for an interview at the Modern Bake Shop and Cafe. Isabelle has lived here for over a year. Her lifelong friend Hanna was visiting for about six weeks.

Isabelle said she knew that many people had got stuck in Montana Creek and she’s deeply embarrassed about the situation. “I am always wondering how is it possible,” was her reaction when she heard of others getting lost. “And then I end up there, and I feel really bad about this,” she said, burying her head in her hands. “We’re feeling really, really stupid putting people in that situation.”

They were taking a last run down Fast Fred’s on Revelstoke Mountain Resort at about 2 p.m. The run zig-zags on the resort’s southern boundary. At one point, they entered a forested area, thinking they were further down the run. They thought they were entering a gladed area bounded by trails; instead they were veering into the creek drainage. “And we didn’t even realize we were out of bounds,” Isabelle says.

They insist they didn’t see any signs when they left the piste for the forest. However, they also insist the mistake was theirs; they should have paid more attention and knew where they were going. Isabelle grew up in a ski town in Sweden and has backcountry training and experience, but on Saturday they were just out for some in-bounds runs at the resort. They also say another skier headed into the area just before them, but they insist they weren’t following him.

As Isabelle skied ahead, Hanna snowboarded behind, falling over frequently and then getting stuck in the deep snow. They say they lost track of time and distance because of the frequent falls. They estimate they were going downhill for about half an hour.

Pretty soon, they realized something was wrong. They tried to cut back up the hill to get back to the in-bounds area. It took them considerable time and energy to wade 50 metres back up through waist-deep snow. Realizing they’d never make it, they studied the area on Google Maps on the one cell phone they had. They figured they could ski out, so they called Isabelle’s sister who also lives in Revelstoke, and informed her of their plan before continuing down the mountain.

Isabelle says one of their big concerns was not initiating a search; back home in Sweden, those not insured for rescue are handed a bill for many, many thousands of dollars for a rescue, she said.

Soon it went from bad to worse. They got steered into a creek at the bottom of a ravine. The creek was covered with snow, branches and logs, so it was impossible to tell if they were about to fall through the ice, and they worried about injuring themselves. They tried to update Isabelle’s sister, but by then they were out of the cell service area. And their battery was dying, so they decided to turn it off for the night.

It was getting dark (remarkably fast, notes Isabelle) so they improvised a shelter out of branches and lit a fire.

By morning, their sister had already called authorities, who mounted a search. Their friends were driving around, looking for them on Airport Way, and their parents worried back home in Sweden. It took a Revelstoke Search and Rescue team aboard a helicopter to lift them out one-by-one with a rope by around noon. Early morning fog delayed the rescue after they were first contacted a couple of hours before that.

“We were so happy to see them,” Hanna says. “They were so kind  to us ... they gave us tea and granola bars and warm gloves.”

“I dont know how we could lose direction like that,” Isabelle says. She told me the Revelstoke RCMP were due for an exit interview, but hadn’t yet visited her. She even said she was expecting to have to return home to work in order pay off the bill.

They seemed surprised when I told them they likely wouldn’t be billed for the incident.

 


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