While Dr. Bonnie Henry’s message may be to get outside, she also urges British Columbians to stay safe, backcountry users included.
With both COVID-19 cases and backcountry enthusiast numbers on the rise, the B.C. Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA), provincial government and mountain recreation stakeholders are asking the public to prepare for the backcountry as winter continues.
New and experienced backcountry users are expected to head out in droves this winter and since April 2020, SAR has been deployed almost 1,600 times — 300 more times than the same time period in 2019 and 2018.
In July, the government committed to additionally fund ground SAR (GSAR) groups throughout the province with an ongoing $6 million contribution.
However, GSAR groups aren’t expected to see the funding, which will help provide volunteers with additional gear and training, until at least 2022.
In the meantime, Minister of Public Safety and solicitor general Mike Farnsworth asked people to properly prepare for their backcountry adventures to help reduce the stress on the province’s GSAR teams.
“People are getting stuck or lost and we’re finding they’re unprepared for the elements or haven’t familiarized themselves with their route,” Farnsworth said.
Instead of allowing an adventure to turn into an emergency, Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness Jennifer Rice asked users to research their route, get the forecast, pack appropriately and leave a trip plan.
“It’s critical to know your limits, dress for the conditions and bring extra layers in case you get lost or stranded.”
Chris Kelly, president of BCSARA, said the elements are not the only risk in the backcountry this year. Exposure to COVID-19 or transmission of the virus only adds to the usual risk, especially to the GSAR volunteers who help those in need.
“Our members risk life and limb to keep people safe and that risk is compounded by the pandemic. We’re imploring everyone playing in the B.C. backcountry to play it safe — for their sake and the sake of our dedicated crews and families,” Kelly pleaded.
Kamloops SAR (KSAR) is also expecting callout numbers to rise in the region. KSAR is taking all the necessary precautions to protect their team and subjects from COVID-19 and is asking people to prepare for changing conditions, be aware of their surroundings and adhere to provincial health restrictions and guidelines.
“We would like to ask residents to abide by the Provincial Health Orders to stay and recreate within the region for the safety of our many small communities and the safety of our team members,” said Cat Lapointe, KSAR secretary.
If you’re stranded, injured and need help in this winter or anytime, dial 9-1-1 to dispatch emergency medical services and your local SAR group, who will come to your rescue free of charge.