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Eight skiers rescued after being trapped in B.C. backcountry

Eight people were part of three separate ski groups that got stuck in dangerous avalanche terrain.

Search and rescue members talked eight skiers to safety after they got stuck in dangerous terrain in B.C.'s backcountry. 

Whistler Search and Rescue (SAR) said it received several calls late Sunday afternoon for skiers trapped in avalanche terrain near Whistler Blackcomb.

Due to safety protocols, it was determined no rescue members would enter the search zone after assessing avalanche forecasting in the area, says Whistler Search and Rescue president Brad Sills.

"At some point, it appears that skiers had crossed a well-demarcated Ski Area Boundary rope line and headed into a local’s favourite backcountry area known as the Cakehole in Garibaldi Provincial Park,” said Sills.

Getting out of the area safely requires a high skill level and knowledge, Sills noted. People need appropriate safety gear, physical fitness and a strong mental perseverance level to travel in that specific area. 

SAR was notified that eight people were lost in the area, in three separate skiing groups. 

"The avalanche hazard rating was high with reactive planes at 30 cm on storm snow and deeper instability at 120 cm," says Sills.

A night vision Talon Helicopter and North Shore Rescue was requested to provide mutual aid but weather at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) hampered the aircraft from taking off. 

Sills said SAR members were successful in "talking" to one of the groups and were able to direct them around some obstacles and navigation problems. 

Three people were able to get to a lower elevation and back into the ski area thanks to the help of SAR. 

However, the five other skiers, one group of four and one man on his own, remained stuck and the weather was not cooperating to do an air rescue. 

"Continuous briefings with Talon at YVR indicated flights were stalled due to convective weather patterns with freezing rain, ice pellets and the possibility of lightning storms,” says Sills. 

The Royal Canadian Air Force air station in Comox was discussing deploying a Cormorant helicopter, but it too was in the same situation. 

Sills said as the night wore on, the lost skiers were in very steep, unstable terrain.

The five skiers realized exiting out the bottom of the area presented more danger than retreating back and were faced with a difficult decision. 

Rescuers were able to make contact with the group and coach them on how to download a navigation app onto their phone. 

Rescuers were then able to monitor the skiers as they made their way back up elevation and then directed the skiers on a circuitous ski traverse back into the in-bound ski area. 

Just after 11 p.m., the skiers were guided back to a rescue group that was waiting for them with a snowcat. 

"Great work by a whole host of mountain rescue professionals from a multitude of organizations,” says Sills. "Another reason why SAR teams push preparedness.”

Fatal avalanche incident near Revelstoke 

A special avalanche warning is in place for most of B.C. as human-triggered avalanches are expected.

Avalanche Canada, Parks Canada and the Province of B.C. issued a joint statement on Feb. 29 after a recent storm brought a significant amount of snow to Western Canada. The warning has been extended to March 7.

"Over the weekend, there were numerous natural, accidental, and remote triggered avalanches reported, sadly including a fatal accident near Revelstoke," says a forecaster.

A group of snow bikers were riding on Sale Mountain, north of Revelstoke, when one person was caught in an avalanche and died on Sunday.