Friday April 18, 2014

Resort could bill skiers for rescue

Sun Peaks

Out-of-bounds areas at Sun Peaks Resort are clearly marked.

Sun Peaks management could bill three out-of-bounds skiers for the resort's part in the search effort, the president of Tourism Sun Peaks said Sunday.

Resort personnel conducted an initial search Friday afternoon for two sisters and an American woman who got lost skiing outside the resort's boundaries in two separate incidents, said Christopher Nicolson. The effort was eventually turned over to Kamloops Search and Rescue, which found the skiers Saturday morning.

Nicolson isn't sure how much the bill would come to. In the past, the resort has billed for staff hours and equipment expenses incurred during a search.

"People need to be responsible for themselves and make responsible decisions, and going into the backcountry without the education, without the equipment and without the knowledge is irresponsibe," said Nicolson.

If the resort bills the skiers, it will be after the busy ski season, he said.

Nicolson tweeted, "All skiers found and safe," at 10 a.m. on Saturday. "Special recognition and thanks to the volunteer search and rescue teams and their families."

All were reportedly in good condition. Temperatures throughout the night were a reasonably warm -2 C.

The first pair of skiers reported missing, 17- and 21-year-old sisters from Kamloops, texted their mother at about 2 p.m. Friday to report they were lost and described where they were.

Nicolson said the resort commissioned a "hasty search" for the sisters earlier in the day using snowmobiles.

The skiers went "under, through or over a rope boundary," Nicolson said. "The entire 10,000 acres is roped off."

Searchers looked in the late afternoon darkness and evening in the Gils area, located via either the Burfield or Crystal chairlifts on the northeast side of the resort.

But as darkness fell and cellphone contact was lost, Kamloops Search and Rescue joined the effort to find them.

About four hours later, as search and rescue staff was staging on the mountain, another skier, a Seattle woman in her 40s, was reported missing in the same area.

Search and rescue spokesman Alan Hobler said the Seattle woman also contacted searchers by cellphone late Friday night to say she could hear their snowmobiles.

Because the cellphone is from the United States, however, RCMP were unable to "ping" the cell to a precise location.

About 10 members were on the mountain using snowmobiles to search, but they were hampered by high winds that obliterated tracks. They found the sisters just after midnight, however, the third skier remained elusive until Saturday morning.

Friday marked the second time in a week that skiers have gone out of bounds. Kamloops Search and Rescue found two teenage boys who got lost in a different area of the mountain on Dec. 23.

Nicolson said this was an unusual number of searches for Sun Peaks. To make matters worse, the skiers had ventured outside the resort's boundary before and did so without the proper equipment or training.

Venturesome skiers and snowboarders should take an avalanche preparedness course and carry a digital avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe, he said.

Hobler said Sun Peaks does all it can to deter people from travelling out of bounds and ensuring guests' safety.

Search and rescue doesn't charge for rescues. Hobler said doing so could prevent people from asking for assistance.

"We never want to do anything that discourages people from calling for help early," said Hobler.

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