On Saturday night, local search and rescue kicked into gear after a day of avalanche awareness as two skiers went missing. The search for the skiers, began at 10 p.m and had to be called off at 2 a.m.
Dave Braithwaite, search manager, got the call that there were missing people at around 9:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“we called out a bunch of people and did our initial searching looking for tracks that head the wrong way,” he said. “It was late at night but they had a ping for their cell phone.” The ping helped them narrow down the area, by locating which cell tower the phone is on, but even after a search through that area they found no trace of the two lost skiers.
“We searched that area as best we could with sound searching and whatever until about 2 in the morning. Then we called it off until the morning when we could have more resources to approach it in a grader manner.
There were roughly fifty people involved. I think we had a dozen from South Columbia, half a dozen from Castlegar and the rest from Rossland.
To facilitate the search the helicopter and snowmobile teams transported members to remote search points in the mountains to try to assess where tracks headed off in directions they shouldn’t be going.
“As we dropped the teams off, we circled in and made a wider arc each time. We picked up a track that looked unusual and as we dropped that team off we followed the track with the helicopter.”
Braithwaite said the track was unusual because it was past where anyone would ski and lead into a difficult to ascend river valley.
They then found the word ‘help’ trampled into the snow and knew they were on the right trail.
The two ended up near one of the side drainages into Esling Creek, which then goes into Sheep Creek, North of Record Peak, East of Old Glory.
“That’s way out there,” he said. “Between Grey and Record Peak some draws go down that do go down into Esling Creek eventually. They’re right almost in Esling Creek.”
Elaine Powers, public relations for the Rossland and District Search and Rescue, said the big challenge was that the two skiers hadn’t told anyone where they were going.
“The only way we knew they were missing is the male was supposed to have dinner with his son the day before but never showed up,” Powers said. ”We didn’t know where they were going, even if they were on snowshoes or randonnee( alpine touring) skis right off the bat.”
“It’s always challenging doing a search when you don’t know where the people intended to go.”
Powers said they weren’t even sure if they would have gone to Red Mountain or Nancy Greene. Luckily, though one of the missing male’s friends checked his locker and noticed their ski touring gear was gone.
“So then we began our very large search,” she said, listing the randonnee skiers, snowmobiles, snowshoers, helicopter and trucks patrolling the highway in case the skiers emerged there.
“Everybody worked in conjunction with each other,” she said.
The skiers were finally spotted.
The two skiers told RCMP that they had originally gone out for one run on Grey Mountain during the afternoon on Saturday, but upon venturing out a white out storm quickly moved in.
This disoriented them and they were then travelling in the wrong direction, west of Red Mountain Resort. Powers said the two were lucky, since they used survival techniques to stay warm.
“They took very good care of themselves once they were out there,” she said. “Though they built a snow shelter, it was too cold just laying in there, so they stayed up all night dancing and singing. They rubbed each others feet when they started to get too cold.”
They were spotted as they were trying to climb a nearby ridge to get better visibility.
Powers said the two will now do a few things that they had neglected for next time. Such as telling someone where they are headed, bringing more clothing, food and water.
“So basically more emergency gear than they had,” she said. “But the fact is, hundreds of people do that everyday and you should, anytime you’re in the backcountry, have a survival pack so that you can stay alive for a night if you need to.”