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.