The way out’s often easier than the way back in

Unfortunately it happens every year at Sun Peaks, to the tune of four or five times—skiers and snowboarders leave the ski area boundary and lose their way. It’s not with mischievous intentions that people become lost, but they do, and then they need to be found.

“The biggest thing I can say is, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, stay in bounds,” says Kevin Bendick, Sun Peaks’ director of outside operations. “If you go past those gates you take on the responsibility of self rescue.”

The Sun Peaks ski area is marked by a boundary that should limit confusion about what to ski and what to avoid.

“Our ski area boundary is very well marked,” says Bendick. “Once you head into the Gils (through the gates) you’re out of the ski area boundary, past the top of the West Bowl T-bar you’re out, and then there are hard edges along The Other Way. It’s very well marked.”

The difficulty is that skiing out of bounds is increasingly popular, and although many people know their way around out there, it’s hard or impossible for anyone to get back if weather rolls in or injury happens. Skiers can easily become lured into drainages that look like they’ll lead back in bounds, but which really point them away from the resort. And, if they break gear they might find that they’re too far from the resort to make it back on their own. One lost skier even found herself being stalked by a cougar one winter.

Alan Hobler, search manager at Kamloops Search and Rescue, who regularly gets calls to rescue lost people at Sun Peaks, said the biggest problem with people going out of bounds or into the backcountry was not understanding the risks associated with it.

Hobler said that “it comes down to being prepared” which involves the awareness of risks such as avalanches, and having the right equipment, such as avalanche equipment, food and water, and wearing warm and dry clothes.

Communication is also key. While cell phones are “very useful” if a person is in cell phone range, “it’s good (to have) somebody (aware of your plans) that will notify help in case you don’t show up or you get lost,” says Hobler.

Sun Peaks Resort staff is often the first to be informed of a missing skier or snowboarder, and they’ll perform a hasty search in the most likely areas.

“If we can’t find them in our initial search we call in RCMP and SAR (Search and Rescue),” continues Bendick.
Hobler says that if you do get lost, there are a number of things you can do.

“Try and signal for help, look at the resources you have with you. Make sure you have the ability to make shelter and get out of the weather,” Hobler advises. “But the most important thing you can do is stay put. We talk about hugging a tree, that’s probably the best advice. Let us come find you. It’s a lot easier to find someone who’s stayed put. There isn’t anything in the backcountry to keep you from going further into the backcountry.”

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