I’m halfway through a telephone interview with Revelstoke SAR search manager Wally Mohn. He’s given me the details of some recent searches, and is explaining why the Montana Creek drainage is such a magnet for lost skiers and snowboarders. The area in question is located beyond the boundary ropes below the southern portion of Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR).
“We’ve got one out-of-bounds up there right now,” Mohn tells me. Search incidents in the Montana Creek area are so common that it seems an ongoing search isn’t worth mentioning up front.
In a mountain town full of backcountry ski touring enthusiasts, why Montana Creek? Four out of five Revelstoke SAR searches over a recent two-week period were in the area.
“One of the problems is there are people that know what they’re doing, are backcountry people … and they go out of bounds,” Mohn explained. “And along comes somebody that … doesn’t have the experience or the expertise that they have, or the equipment.”
Mohn says experienced backcountry types come prepared, bringing equipment such as food, water, phones, proper clothing, snowshoes, ski-touring gear and the ability to make a fire. They know what they’re getting into and are prepared for it.
The others, like a pair of skiers who got lost in the area on Jan. 29, enter the area not knowing what’s in front of them: “No extra gear at all, and (they) are not prepared to spend the night out,” Mohn said of the two.
Factor in the ever-increasing popularity of backcountry touring, and its lazier cousin ‘slackcountry’ touring – or lift-assisted backcountry touring – and you’ve got a recipe for more lost skiers and snowboarders.
On Jan. 22, major London-based UK daily newspaper The Independent let its readers in on the slackcountry trend, listing off B.C. resorts including RMR as good destinations to get a taste of what lays beyond the ropes. “Easy to get to, sometimes tricky to find, and always laced with danger, these days it’s the crayon in the box that everyone wants to play with,” they wrote.
The following incidents involving Revelstoke SAR occurred during a two-week period spanning from Jan. 24 to Feb. 6:
Jan. 29: Two Revelstoke SAR members responded to help a male skier who became lost while skiing at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. The search came to a conclusion when the man walked out on his own.
Jan. 29: Four members of Revelstoke SAR responded to search for a missing snowmobiler on Boulder Mountain. The search concluded when the subject was located in good condition by others at a mountain cabin.
Jan. 30: Nine Revelstoke SAR members responded to rescue six stranded snowboarders and skiers in the Montana Creek drainage. There were two parties involved.
The first group of two ducked the ropes at RMR and descended into the Montana Creek area and were reported missing. A helicopter with a SAR member on board was dispatched to search for them. The two were spotted trying to climb back up to the resort area.
While the helicopter was on scene, SAR received a report of another group of four lost riders who had also gone out of bounds at RMR, also in the Montana Creek area.
The helicopter crew located the second group and relayed instructions to them by cell phone “They managed to walk out to the road,” Mohn said.
The helicopter then went back to the first pair, dropped them a radio and instructed them to hike back up the hill to the in-bounds area of the resort, which they did.
Jan. 31: Four Revelstoke SAR members responded to the Montana Creek drainage to rescue a lost skier. Rescuers found the cold, tired but uninjured individual and provided an escort out of the area.
Feb. 3: Two Revelstoke SAR members responded to a call about a missing snowboarder near Montana Creek. SAR members were later stood down after the individual was contacted by cell phone. He was able to make it out of the area on his own.