It was a moment of poor decision making that put us into a situation where our own safety was desperately compromised and inadvertently we also became responsible for putting the well-being of others at risk.
On Feb. 20, 2011, two of us headed further west of the West Bowl T-bar at Sun Peaks Resort. Assuming we could connect with the original path further down the mountain, we followed tracks into an area unknown to us. It was just the first of several mistakes we made that day.
Before we realized how off-course we were, we found ourselves on what seemed like an 80-degree slope surrounded by ridges with enormous potential of an avalanche. We made a futile attempt to hike back but the snow conditions made it impossible. We felt helpless, surrounded by the perilous avalanche possibilities.
Terrified to continue into a gully surrounded by thick forest and unable to climb back the way we’d come, we decided we needed help. Luckily we were able to call Sun Peaks Ski Patrol, who quickly took action in trying to locate us. Patrol director John Stewart was instrumental in pinpointing our location and after several hours of sitting in the cold, wet snow, physically and emotionally exhausted, it was a relief to hear the rotors of the RCMP helicopter overhead. Safely back at the First Aid station, we didn’t realize the magnitude of the situation we’d been in.
We walked away from our situation with remorse, gratitude and appreciation for the people who put their own lives at risk to come to our aid and a lasting impression for a hard lesson well learned.
Looking back, we were lucky in many ways. The weather that day was clear and sunny, albeit –20 degrees, and fortunately a storm hadn’t blown in unexpectedly, as is often the case at Sun Peaks.
We didn’t fully realize the gravity of our position until we had time to consider all we’d been through. We hope anyone who thinks they know the mountain, as we thought we did, will stop and think twice before making a decision like ours.
We’re very thankful for the hardworking people of Sun Peaks Ski Patrol and First Aid, the local RCMP and the joint efforts of Kamloops Search and Rescue. Thanks also to Marg and Linda for their support and calming advice and again, to John for his diligence in helping to find us.
Alexis Mitchell and Jennifer Neilly – Kamloops, B.C.