They chase the thrills and we pay the bills. It’s time that changed.
We are competely in favour of rescuing people in trouble. And when lives are hanging in the balance, that’s not the time to lay blame.
But when everyone is safe and warm, the accounting should begin, and if someone needed to be rescued because of blatant and deliberate disregard for safety rules and procedures, that person should be held responsible.
Last week, snowboarder Sebastien Boucher of Ottawa went out of bounds near the Cypress Mountain ski area north of Vancouver and got lost. The result was a search-and-rescue operation over the next two nights and three days that involved about 100 people and four helicopters. Family and friends were worried, and rescuers’ lives were put at risk.
The ski resort says it will bill Boucher for its costs in the rescue — about $10,000 — but the total cost is closer to $100,000, most of which will come from taxpayers. Boucher is iffy about paying the $10,000, suggesting instead that he would raise funds for North Shore Search and Rescue. Nice for the rescue team — it certainly deserves it — but what about the rest of us?
Later in the week, a father and three teenaged sons left the marked ski area of the Revelstoke Mountain Resort and became lost. They were located by a search-and-rescue helicopter, but weather and approaching night prevented their rescue. Supplies were dropped to them and they were rescued the next day. That effort probably cost considerably less than the Boucher rescue, but it was still expensive.
It would be difficult and even heartless to hold people financially responsible for all rescue operations. The reasons people get into situations where they need rescuing cover a wide spectrum, ranging from unavoidable accidents to absentmindedness to recklessness. It would be difficult to specify instances whenpeople should pay the costs of rescue and when society should pick up the tab.
But in the case of last week’s incidents, lines were deliberately crossed, rules consciously broken in the quest for more thrills. Such actions shows disregard for the lives of others, as well as the feelings of family and friends. To let the miscreants off scot-free is to enable reckless behaviour.
It wouldn’t be fair to single out skiers and snowboarders. It should also apply in case such as snowmobilers who head off into avalanche conditions and to boaters who put out to sea in severe storms.
Search-and-rescue organizations are not in favour of financial penalties — they feel it might deter people from calling in professionals for fear of incurring thousands of dollar in costs. And it would be a difficult public policy to implement and enforce in a province where outdoor recreation, which almost always entails some element of risk, is so important to the economy and the quality of life.
But perhaps penalties can be imposed in certain situations where actions are taken in defiance of clearly defined restrictions.
Ski resorts wrestle with this problem regularly and warn their customers accordingly.
“Closed means closed,” says the website of the Whitewater Ski Resort near Nelson. “Out of bounds are not patrolled. If you require an out-of-bounds rescue, you pay the entire bill.”
It’s difficult to legislate personal responsibility, but we should make some effort to rein in a reckless sense of self-entitlement that puts lives in danger.
© Copyright 2013