Todd Shymko is very lucky to be alive, and probably wouldn’t be if it weren’t for Rossland Search and Rescue volunteers.
On Saturday, Feb. 13, Shymko was skiing alone at Red Mountain Resort when he took a wrong turn and headed out of bounds. The mistake almost cost him his life.
Shymko, 37, is from Vancouver and that weekend was his first time at Red. Riding up the lift with a patroller who was also on a snowboard, he asked which route he should take.
“The patroller told me to go down a cat track and hang a right, and I went down a cat track and hung a left,” said Shymko. “And I went out of bounds. I went over the back side of Grey Mountain.”
Shymko thought he’d be able to pop back in bounds if he cut to the right, but eventually discovered that wasn’t so. At that point he tried to hike back up the way he’d come.
“But it had snowed so much [the night before] and because the face was quite steep, it was extremely taxing,” he said. “Not impossible, but it was really not a good use of energy.”
So instead Shymko got back on his board and ended up following Esling Creek, believing it would eventually lead him to a road.
“I tried to ride the river out, but it got flat and it got dangerous, as I was almost falling in the frozen creek at times, and also there was a lot of over brush,” he said. “I couldn’t ride it.”
Shymko was losing daylight and decided to make camp, but all he had with him was a granola bar. He drank from the creek and made himself a snow cave.
“I used my snowboard like a big shovel, and I hollowed out underneath a big, full tree,” he said. “Then I broke branches off other trees to make the fort even more bomber.”
By this time Shymko was soaking wet from sweat and snow, and he had nothing with him to make a fire. He tried rubbing sticks together and striking rocks, but to no avail. He used his cellphone (he had no cell reception) to make a video will, in the event that he didn’t survive the night and his body was eventually found.
“The only smart thing I had done, was I had told my younger brother that if I didn’t call in every day by 4 p.m., to call the ski patrol,” said Shymko.
This is what would ultimately save his life, as members of Rossland Search and Rescue (RSAR) were called in by the RCMP to help find him.
Dave Braithwaite, search manager, says RSAR was called in around 6 p.m. after Shymko’s brother reported him missing.
There was no luck finding him on Saturday, but on Sunday — Valentine’s Day — RSAR learned that Shymko “had gone up with another snowboarder” and tracked down the man Shymko had gotten directions from. The team then went to investigate based on the man’s directions.
“So we went and looked, didn’t see anything, went below that and found one snowboard track going into the bush in a real weird spot,” said Braithwaite. “Very hard to find. It snowed 30 cm over night; there was almost no sign of the track. So he was pretty lucky.”
They followed his tracks and eventually made voice contact with Shymko, who had started hiking back the way he’d come when he woke up. An hour later they found him.
“I’d never been so happy to see other people in my whole life,” said Shymko.
The RSAR team fed him and then helped him hike back to the highway on snowshoes. Since Shymko was completely exhausted the hike out took between two and three hours.
Had Shymko not been found that day, he most likely would not have survived another night.
“The likelihood of survival was less than two per cent at this point,” said Braithwaite. “If he was out one more night, he probably wouldn’t have made it.”
Shymko is very grateful for RSAR’s help.
“They were the coolest guys, every single one of them,” he said of the RSAR team. “They were so nice and so understanding. They didn’t talk down to me and after what I’d been through, like the last thing I wanted was a lecture. They were all super cool.”
Shymko has since donated to RSAR to show his gratitude.
“If it wasn’t for those guys I don’t think I’d be here, because I wouldn’t have had the strength to hike out,” he said.