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Signage and simple steps could prevent more from being lost down the Montana Creek drainage

By EDITORIAL
December 14, 2011 · 2:43 PM
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Backcountry search and rescue incidents always seem to provoke emotional responses, both from people who never venture into the snow and those who spend most of the winter knee deep in it.

Armchair critics are quick to criticize and blame anyone who gets themselves in trouble in winter while off the beaten track. They don’t seem to acknowledge that there’s lots of fun and adventure to be had in the outdoors in the winter, and that, yes, sometimes things go wrong. By their definition, risk should be eliminated from life.

Some backcountry enthusiasts are quick to fire back. You have little understanding of my lifestyle, they reply. I’ve educated and equipped myself and have done everything in my power to manage risk. I get one shot at life, and being in the backcountry is what keeps my heart beating.

Looking at recent incidents involving Revelstoke searches, some clear patterns emerge. There are skier rescues, snowboarder rescues and snowmobiler rescues. Sometimes the cause is injury; other times they get stuck or lost. Some of the incidents are “out-of-bounds” while others are backcountry.

There is one big piece of the overall rescue pie that we can and should work to reduce: those getting lost in the Montana Creek drainage after leaving the in-bounds ski area at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

Searchers tell us the majority of those who become lost in the Montana Creek drainage are inexperienced. They are not equipped with basic survival and navigation equipment.

Sometimes they ignore signs directing them along a cat track back to safety, other times they descend too far. They are not experienced outdoorsmen. In short, they don’t know where they are going.

It seems the immediate solution is better signage along the perimeter that leads into the area known as the Montana Creek drainage. Some signage does exist there, but it could be clearer and more prevalent. The signs need to be accessible to those who may not read English. Signage in that part of the mountain could be augmented with more on-mountain education about the recurring incidents there. (There is some educational signage on the mountain currently).

After the tragic death of two skiers in an out-of-bounds area below the Ripper chair in early-2010, the resort responded by placing signs in the area expressing the danger of the terrain there. Similar signs would be helpful along the cat track at the bottom of South Bowl and the cat ski terrain.

Increased awareness campaigns would also help significantly.

Another good idea is more peer-to-peer awareness. Whether it’s the sidecountry or the backcountry, if you see newbies doing something dangerous, such as venturing out of bounds without proper avalanche gear, tell them. Be nice. Help them out. Hey, even spreading the word to a newcomer on the chairlift could help.

Backcountry and sidecountry use around Revelstoke has been growing each year. In fact, we market these recreation opportunities and benefit from opportunity the terrain provides both residents and visitors alike.

Now’s a good time to redouble efforts to help mitigate risks to the waves of newcomers to the backcountry each year.

Should those who require rescue be billed for it?

Should we bill those who are rescued? Our view is no. Ski resorts can yank passes for those who violate terms of use. But what about for those lost or injured in the backcountry? We send ambulances to help road incident victims and helicopters to rescue endangered boaters. We expend billions on medical care for preventable lifestyle diseases. We can afford to subsidize volunteer search operations. Not doing so could lead to more tragedies; those who are in trouble may delay making the call for help, leading to a worse outcome. Although other jurisdictions have backcountry insurance systems, do the costs at this point really point to the need for a change? If we can work together to keep the number of rescues manageable, we may never need to consider it.