While avalanches are a serious risk, most of the calls search and rescuer volunteers respond to relate to lost or injured people in the backcountry. Photo submitted

Strong interest in back-country safety seminar at RED Resort

Most search and rescue calls are about skiers lost in the backcountry and out-of-bounds

  • Feb. 12, 2020 12:00 a.m.

Skiers, snowboarders and riders of all ages benefited from Rossland Search and Rescue’s Backcountry Awareness Day on Saturday at Red Mountain Resort.

RSAR normally holds Avalanche Awareness Day in January, but this year decided to expand its efforts to include backcountry safety more broadly.

“While avalanches are a serious risk, most of the calls we respond to relate to lost or injured people in the backcountry,” explained president Robin Beech. 

Participants learned what to do if you are lost in the backcountry, including how to build a fire on snow and how to build a snow shelter. Avalanche rescue skills were also covered, with stations available for participants to practice transceiver and probing skills and hear about backcountry first aid.

First-hand experience

Mark Gayowski, a Rossland-area man found by SAR searchers on New Year’s Day, was on hand to talk about his experience.

Taking a quick out-of-bounds run before ending his ski day, Gayowski left Red Resort and ended up spending two nights out in the woods in very rough terrain on the side of Esling Creek.

Gayowski learned the hard way that it’s important to make a trip plan and stick to it. He is very grateful to his rescuers: “I just want to say thank you, and to anyone elsewhere who’s skiing, maybe think twice before you want to duck under a rope.”

Esling Creek is a well-known trap for backcountry skiers. It’s where a large percentage of riders lost from Red Mountain end up. The terrain is steep and littered with enormous logs, making for a difficult search.

Brad White, a member of the team searching for Gayowski, highlighted some of the things he did right — calling his mom to let her know his plan — and some things that made the search tougher — continually moving to stay warm, which made it hard for searchers to track him.

“Staying warm is important,” White says. “But it’s better to create a track and walk back and forth within it.”

He also emphasized the importance of paying attention to RED Resort’s “STOP – THINK – NO WAY OUT” signs.

White reviewed some of the tips from Adventure Smart on how to plan a safe outdoor trip:

  • If you leave the ski area, make sure you are properly equipped with avalanche equipment, extra food and water, warm clothing and a first aid kit.
  • Know where you are leaving from and how you plan to return home.
  • Tell someone your plan, with an estimate of your arrival time back home.
  • Check the weather. If there is an impending storm, don’t go.
  • Always ski with a buddy, particularly outside the resort.

If you do get lost, follow the STOP steps – Stop, Think, Observe, Plan – then act. Remember:

  • Stay where you are. Moving makes it hard for searchers to find you.
  • Build a fire to stay warm, if you can.
  • Build or seek a shelter. Snow caves work well and even a small tarp can make an effective shelter in a pinch. Use branches to keep your body off the ground.
  • Use a signalling device – a whistle, smoke from a fire, or a mirror work well.
  • Eat your food and drink sparingly. It may have to last a while.

Everyone learned something about staying safe in the backcountry on Saturday. Hot chocolate and great prizes for all participants made the day that much better.

Many thanks to RED Resort and the many local merchants who made Backcountry Awareness Day possible.

Adventure Smart has some great tips and a handy app on how to plan your outdoor trip. Download it today and remember these points:

• If you leave the ski area, make sure you are properly equipped with avalanche equipment, extra food and water, warm clothing and a first aid kit.

• Know where you are leaving from and how you plan to return home.

• Tell someone your plan, with an estimate of your arrival time back home.

• Check the weather. If there is an impending storm, don’t go.

• Always ski with a buddy, particularly outside the resort.

If you do get lost, follow the “STOP” steps – Stop, Think, Observe, Plan – then act. Remember:

• Stay where you are. Moving makes it hard for searchers to find you.

• Build a fire to stay warm, if you can.

• Build or seek a shelter. Snow caves work well and even a small tarp can make an effective shelter in a pinch. Use branches to keep your body off the ground.

• Use a signalling device – a whistle, smoke from a fire, or a mirror work well.

• Eat your food and drink sparingly. It may have to last a while.


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