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Snowboarder rescued after being buried to waist in North Shore backcountry avalanche

Snowboarder was alone and out of bounds near Cypress Provincial Park when he was caught in an avalanche; rescuers say he suffered serious injuries

A snowboarder who was buried to his waist in an avalanche is lucky to be alive after being rescued from dangerous backcountry terrain Tuesday night.

North Shore Rescue ground crews reached the seriously injured snowboarder around 7:30 Tuesday evening, and carried him out on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance at Cypress Mountain Resort by about 10:30 p.m. The man was rushed to hospital in critical condition.

Mike Danks, team leader for North Shore Rescue, said the snowboarder is lucky to be alive. With no avalanche transceiver or equipment, he was fortunate to have only been buried to his waist, to remain conscious and to have cell phone service to make a call, said Danks. When rescue crews reached him, the snowboarder was hypothermic and had suffered significant trauma in the avalanche, said Danks. “This man would not have survived the night.”

The snowboarder had started his day at Cypress Mountain Resort, but had ducked under a rope to go out of bounds in an area off the back side of Mount Strachan.

The man was alone and in dangerous avalanche terrain, said Danks. Soon after going out of bounds the boarder was hit with a small avalanche and buried up to his waist.

The man managed to call his girlfriend in Burnaby, who called police.

Rescue teams were scrambled after 4:15 p.m.

Danks said the snowboarder was able to text them a photo of his location and they were able to spot him from the air. Ground rescue crews led by an avalanche forecaster made it to the man’s location around 7:30 p.m.

The snowboarder had somehow managed to free himself and was sitting on top of the avalanche debris, mostly incoherent, said Danks. “He wasn’t making any sense and we had to shout at him to get him to respond.” 

Rescuers quickly dragged the man out of the gully and brought the man down to the Howe Sound Crest Trail. “They had to physically drag him out of there as quickly as possible to reduce their exposure [to another avalanche],” said Danks.

One of the rescuers who is also a doctor assessed the man’s condition as critical, involving possible multiple fractures and other internal injuries, said Danks.

But North Shore Rescue teams do not currently have approval to hoist rescue subjects by helicopter at night. Rescuers called the military SAR teams for backup help but their helicopters were engaged in another search, for a downed Cessna in the waters between Victoria and Port Angeles, Wash.

So instead, additional ground crews were called in to help, said Danks.

“When you look at a map, it's not actually that far. But the trail when you're bringing somebody out on a stretcher in snow, it's very challenging. We actually had to have teams go in and dig the trail to make it wider, so the stretcher could be brought out.”

The rescue team, with the help of several bystanders, managed to carry the snowboarder out to Cypress Mountain Resort at between 10 and 10:30 p.m., at which point he was taken by ambulance to hospital.

Tuesday's rescue was complex, said Danks, involving 28 people including avalanche experts, a doctor, emergency room nurse and paramedic and multiple rope rescue teams as well as Cypress ski patrol and members of the public.

The snowboarder’s actions are a classic example of what not to do to avoid trouble, said Danks.

“On the North Shore mountains, when you go out of bounds, you're in uncontrolled avalanche terrain that is incredibly unforgiving,” he said. “He had no transceiver on. He's incredibly lucky that he was only buried up to his waist and somehow was able to get himself out.”

The man was lucky to make a phone call, said Danks. But he added “when you're in trouble, don't phone your friend, phone 911, because that direct call to 911 would have probably given us enough time to get him out by helicopter.”

There was no immediate update on the man’s condition today.

Earlier this month a snowshoer who was also alone and got lost off the Howe Sound Crest Trail died after suffering injuries in a fall and being caught in the backcountry overnight.