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North Shore Rescue saves out-of-bounds skier caught in slide

With avalanche risk as high as it is, it’s ‘crazy’ to go out of bounds right now, North Shore Rescue’s search manager says

North Shore Rescue saved an out-of-bounds skier Thursday after he triggered a small avalanche and slammed into trees in the Cypress Provincial Park backcountry.

The team was called to Christmas Gully east of the Howe Sound Crest Trail, Thursday afternoon, after Cypress Mountain staff alerted them to the incident, which left the subject with a broken femur.

Search manager Allan McMordie called in a Talon helicopter and long-line rescue team to get the injured man out, but cloudy conditions meant they had to turn back at the last minute.

“We were just putting together Plan B and C for land-based response with the team standing by at Cypress Bowl, and the skies cleared just enough to get a [helicopter] team in,” he said. “We put the guy into our aerial rescue platform and flew him out just maybe 20 minutes before it started snowing up there and just became socked in.”

Sending teams in on foot would have been long and potentially dangerous, given the current avalanche risk, with 80 centimetres of snow falling on an unstable crust, McMordie said.

“It is crazy to go outside of a controlled ski area right now,” he said. “That whole area could just all go all at once.”

The skier and his friends were well equipped for and experienced in backcountry skiing, but the timing and location were bad choices, said team leader Mike Danks. North Shore Rescue always strictly advises against going out of resort boundaries in search of fresh powder, something that has resulted in many fatalities over the years because those areas tend to be avalanche terrain that funnels into deadly gullies.

With avalanche conditions as high as they are, it has never been a worse idea, McMordie said.

“Don’t duck the rope. Don’t go out of bounds. We just had three people killed up an Invermere,” he said.

North Shore Rescue’s preferred ride, Talon’s night-flying Dauphin helicopter equipped with a hoist, is down for maintenance for a month, leaving the team reliant on the familiar yellow Talon helicopters and long-lines for rescues, which is something people should ponder before going into the backcountry, McMordie added.

“Not only is the risk profile high, but the chances of you getting a fast rescue are low also. It’s going be a long time before we can get to you,” he said.