North Shore Rescue finds lost Cypress skier, called to Whistler backcountry Sunday evening

B.C. search and rescue teams were busy over the weekend, with multiple rescue operations in the mountains of southwest B.C. Anyone heading out to the mountains is reminded to be prepared for the conditions. Kate Walker reports.

North Shore Rescue had a busy evening Sunday, as it was called for help in two separate rescue missions across B.C.’s South Coast.

The service said the first call for help came from Whistler Search and Rescue, looking to find five lost skiers.

“Whistler requested our night hoist team to respond with Talon Helicopters to assist in locating and extracting the skiers,” NSR said. “Whistler also had two other calls for lost skiers this evening.”

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NSR says due to Talon being unable to leave the ground, its crews — both air and ground — did not make it to Whistler to help rescue crews.

“The conditions were terrible everywhere,” Search Manager Dave Barnett told CityNews Monday. “We were getting an awful lots of snow. Visibility was poor, and with that much snow falling, the avalanche condition was quite high everywhere.”

NSR’s second evening call was from a lost skier on Cypress Mountain. The skier called NSR himself to report he was lost.

“Crews have responded to Cypress,” the group said Sunday. “However, the weather this evening is challenging and Talon is currently unable to take off from YVR.”

Barnett confirmed to CityNews early Monday the skier on Cypress was rescued by crews at about 12 a.m. Monday.

The skier was hypothermic, dehydrated, and was “very, very lucky” to be found. “He was in a very difficult area to get to. … Steep terrian, gullies, and lots of snow, with signs the avalanche risk was quite high.”

“We had to be very careful to get to this fella,” Barnett said. “If he had been in a different area out there, there’s a good chance we couldn’t have gone out that night as the avalanche risk was that high.”

Barnett shared that if he had managed to stay warm, the skier would have been able to survive the night, but “it doesn’t take much to get hypothermia, and people can die of hypothermia in a matter of three hours.”

Barnett says the man in his 30s was in “good physical condition,” and had left the top of Cypress Mountain Resort on skis.

“He wasn’t familiar with the area and the visibility was so poor, he didn’t have a chance to find the mountain on the way back. So, when we found him, he was definitely cold and very tired. It was difficult for him to hike back out. We had a pair of snowshoes for him, and carried his skis, and helped him get back out that way,” Barnett said.

While NSR was able to get a few text messages to the man to be able to pinpoint exactly where he was, Barnett said that wasn’t the real challenge of the rescue.

“The difficulty here is just the amount of snow we had and the avalanche risk. Eventually, it took probably 90 minutes after they had voice contact to actually get to him,” Barnett said. “There was enough cracking and wilting in the snow that you couldn’t just go directly to him — you had to pick your way through the terrain, being very careful.”

Barnett is now urging skiers and snowboards to stay in lower elevation areas, with less complicated terrain due to the avalanche risk.

“People should stay away from areas where there is avalanche risk,” he said. “If people venture out into the backcountry, in periods where there’s significant snowfall or changing temperatures, the avalanche risks can be high. And people need to be well prepared and trained if they’re going to venture anywhere in the backcountry.”

“Stay in the boundary areas.”

This comes a day after the rescue service was called out to assist a woman and her dog, who had become overwhelmed by unexpected weather conditions in the South Knob area of Black Mountain on Cypress. The NSR flight team responded with night vision, Talon helicopters, and a ground team, but the pair ultimately made it home on their own.

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