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Lost snowboarder ate snow, warmed hands with bag full of urine

'I did put people's lives in danger and I feel horrible for that. But I'm now a stronger person and it inspired me'

Sebastien Boucher had been well-prepared for a day of snowboarding at Cypress. He'd packed a lunch, an extra pair of gloves, a lighter, a thermal layer and plenty of water and headed to the North Shore around 6:30 a.m.

Halfway there, he got a phone call: Boucher's best friend Nick Vachon, a volunteer firefighter, had been killed on Saturday night, hit by a car while walking home from a Christmas party in Ottawa.

"Right there, my head goes somewhere else. I'm not even thinking about snowboarding," Boucher, 33, said in an interview Wednesday, about 12 hours after his dramatic rescue from Black Mountain.

Boucher, who had moved to Vancouver from Ottawa four years ago, thought about heading home and making arrangements to fly back east. Then he thought about what his friend would want.

He had already purchased his ski pass. So he headed to the Sky Chair, to the same area of fresh powder on which he'd spent eight hours the day before.

"I thought snowboarding would distract me. I was on the chair, I was crying like a baby. I just thought of my friend, what I could do differently," he said, his voice still ragged from lack of sleep and water.

His emergency kit would later be found in his car, forgotten.

Boucher did one run down the mountain and back up again. He was alone and although he had gone beyond the boundary ropes, he thought he knew the terrain. He was wrong.

"In two, three seconds, that's all you need. If you get distracted, two or three seconds."

Those seconds would become three days, lost in a deep freeze with no food or water, wandering to an out-of-bounds area six kilometres from his starting place in difficult terrain. Eventually, he took enormous risks to shinny down a cliff face to a creek, desperately trying to find water and get his bearings.

When - finally - an RCAF Cormorant helicopter, dispatched by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria, winched Boucher up by cable from nearly 100 metres down that creek gully on Tuesday night, he had "about five per cent left," left in him, he said.

But in the beginning of his ordeal, Boucher thought he'd be able to save himself. Some friends know him as Butch, or Rambo, for his athleticism and a habit of solo adventuring.

"By about 9:30 at night (on Sunday), when I was cold, that's when I said, 'OK. Stop thinking about your friend Nick. Now it's time to think about you, because you will join him if you don't do something now.'"

All Boucher had was his wallet and a near-frozen cellphone in a Ziploc bag. There was enough power for a five-second phone call to alert a friend he needed help, and then he was alone again. He dug out a shelter but it was too cold to sleep. Boucher spent his first night - and the two nights that followed - tap-dancing to keep from freezing.

On Monday, Boucher found an spot "like a teepee," that was sheltered from the elements. Hungry and dehydrated, but sucking on snow to keep some moisture in his mouth, he decided to hunker down and wait for search and rescue.

He tried to make a bed of cedar branches and to start a fire. He failed and he realized he was freezing.

"At one point, I take everything out of my Ziploc bag and urinate in my bag, close the bag, and warm up my hands with that. You cannot believe how much that made a difference," he said. "That's the smartest thing I've ever done, pissing in a Ziploc bag."

By Tuesday around 4 p.m., Boucher was on the move again - despite the warnings of wilderness experts to stay in one place if lost. His mind was starting to slip; he didn't have a game plan, but decided to search for a creek, which he thought might lead to the ocean. He found it in the most dangerous area of all.

"It was pretty crazy," Boucher said. "This is not just incline, this is 90 degrees. To be honest, I'm amazed I'm telling this story.... This guy hasn't ate or slept or drank water in days, and he's doing the stuff you see in movies."

The hill was too steep and the snow too deep to walk, so Boucher was trying to Tarzan his way down the incline, wearing his snowboard boots and helmet, and carrying his board.

At a waterfall along the creek, Boucher thought he heard the music of Johnny Cash. Not sure if he was hallucinating, he started screaming for help, and finally saw a flashlight hundreds of metres above.

When a North Shore Search and Rescue team reached him around 6 p.m., one told him: "I can't believe you're alive. I thought I was just looking for your body."

Boucher was given dry clothes, granola bars and hot chocolate made with creek water, and airlifted out around 10 p.m. Tuesday and sent to hospital. He received 10 stitches in his backside and was released a few hours later.

He checked into a hotel with his relieved family and friends, downed a pepperoni pizza, and went to sleep.

While apologetic and "cursing myself for my mistakes," Boucher said he's now inspired to give back.

"I think I'd be really good at search and rescue, joining the team," said Boucher, a mortgage specialist at a bank. "It's a bad story that happened, it's unfortunate. I did put people's lives in danger and I feel horrible for that. But I'm now a stronger person and it inspired me."

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