Skier rescued after North Vancouver backcountry avalanche

Brent Richter - North Shore News

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North Shore Rescue members prepare to stretcher an injured skier out of the North Vancouver backcountry following an avalanche Tuesday. photo supplied, North Shore Rescue

It took a massive rescue effort and the help of many agencies, but a backcountry skier injured in an avalanche Tuesday afternoon has been saved.

North Shore Rescue got the call around 3 p.m. alerting them to a skier caught in a Size 2 avalanche on the front side of Mount Seymour. The classification ranks the avalanche as one that could “bury, injure or kill a person.”

“We don’t know if he triggered the avalanche or if someone else triggered it, and he was caught in it,” said Mike Danks, North Shore Rescue team leader. “But he indicated he travelled around 200 metres downhill. On his way, he was hitting trees. That’s where he sustained a fractured femur and rib injuries as well.”

A brief break in the dense fog allowed one rescue helicopter to land and drop off a field team but getting the injured man back to safety would take close to seven hours.

North Shore Rescue members prepare to stretcher an injured skier out of the North Vancouver backcountry following an avalanche Tuesday. photo supplied, North Shore Rescue
Upwards of 30 North Shore Rescue volunteers – the majority of the team’s active membership – assisted in the call, along with Mt. Seymour ski patrol, B.C. Ambulance paramedics, BC Parks and Metro Vancouver staff, and Talon Helicopters.

Considerable avalanche risk meant that safety for the rescuers had to be first priority, Danks said. The team posted a guard above the slide site to watch for more avalanche activity and another one at the summit of Mount Seymour to keep snowshoers and hikers from triggering another slide.

North Shore Rescue members prepare to stretcher an injured skier out of the North Vancouver backcountry following an avalanche Tuesday. photo supplied, North Shore Rescue

When crews reached the skier, a man in his 30s, he was hypothermic and in a great deal of pain. Rescuers stabilized and rewarmed the skier as quickly as they could. Because some of the first volunteers at the scene were medical doctors, they were able to administer pain medication.

“He was very lucky,” Danks said.

Getting the injured skier back to the Seymour parking lot required volunteers to use ropes and anchors and six people at a time holding a stretcher and guiding it down the slope, while attempting to keep the man’s leg in traction.

“This all took a considerable amount of time, a huge amount of manpower and a lot of support from not only North Shore Rescue members but other agencies involved. “There are a lot of moving parts in this. It really speaks to the character of these volunteers, the amount of time they put in with medical training, rope rescue training and travelling in avalanche terrain. All of that stuff kind of meshed together and it saved a life last night,” said Danks.

The injured man was an experienced backcountry skier who was otherwise well prepared, Danks said,

“These things happen. I don’t think anybody’s at fault here,” he said.

It’s the first major rescue effort of 2018 by North Shore Rescue, but Danks said, the harrowing call-out will be remembered by his team for another reason. It was also the first time the members came together since the funeral of Jay Piggot, the longtime volunteer who died of cancer in December.

“I think this really has brought our team back together and really engaged everyone to do a good job and be there for our community,” he said.

According to Avalanche Canada the risk of slides in the North Shore Mountains remains moderate to considerable, but is expected to reach high by Thursday.

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