North Shore Search and Rescue crews haven’t had a spare second to even think about their Christmas shopping.
After a two-day search for 33-year-old snowboarder Sebastien Boucher starting Dec. 17, another lost snowboarder out of bounds on Cypress Saturday night and a potential avalanche on the Grouse Grind Sunday morning, rescue workers are desperately hoping for a chance to come up for air.
“It’s just overwhelming right now,” an exhausted Tim Jones, spokesman for North Shore Search and Rescue, told reporters at Grouse Mountain Sunday. “We can’t seem to catch our breath.”
“None of us have got our Christmas shopping done ... That’s what I’ve got to get done today.”
The long and gruelling hours this past week marked an “unusual” flux of rescue calls, said Jones.
“It’s exhausting work,” he said.
And he doesn’t expect the load to get any lighter — most crew members will abstain from a holiday drink this year as they wait for the next call to come in.
“We’ve got to be ready,” said Jones. “There’s too many people that are relying on us.”
The report of an avalanche on the Grouse Grind came in Sunday around 10:30 a.m. After hours of searching the site, it was determined there was no avalanche, only minor slides caused from a tree that fell and got uprooted. No injuries were reported.
The Grouse Grind closes for winter because of its snowy and icy conditions, but people continue to bypass the gate closing off access and hike the trail. According to Jones, on a sunny day about 500 people per hour will hike the cordoned-off mountain trail.
Even as rescue workers combed the scene to ensure there were no burials after the slide, hikers continued to bypass crews and hike.
Sunday’s potential avalanche was an incredibly long day for North Shore Search and Rescue as they were just coming off an all-night search for an out-of-bounds snowboarder on Cypress Mountain — their second one in a week.
The distress call came in about 3:30 p.m. Saturday and crews were able to locate the man by about 1 a.m. Sunday.
Jones said searchers were able to find him quickly only because they learned from their search for Boucher — who had spent two nights on the mountain — and changed their approach.
They didn’t have the snowboarder’s GPS co-ordinates, but they knew he was lower on the mountain. Instead of working from the top and tracking down, they sent teams in at different elevation levels letting off parachute flares. They quickly made voice contact.
“I’m quite sure if we didn’t do what we did last night we’d still be looking for that guy,” said Jones. “The ski team that was in place above would not have been able to get to him.”
Although the crew is still in the process of cleaning up and collecting their gear from Boucher’s rescue, the volunteer team strictly oppose charging for rescue missions involving out of bound hikers and skiers.
But the spate of recent rescues continues to highlight that people aren’t getting the message about on-hill safety.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take,” said Jones. “It’s probably going to be a fatality maybe one of them or one of us — just to wake people up.”
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