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Motion-sensor camera alerts North Shore Rescue to out-of-bounds skier

The technology mobilized a rescue into potentially deadly terrain before any official call for help was made
North Shore Rescue volunteers prepare to rescue a Cypress Mountain skier after he went out of bounds and into the West Vancouver backcountry, March 6, 2024. | North Shore Rescue

Smile. You’re on candid camera, and it might have just saved your life.

North Shore Rescue saved an out-of-bounds skier Wednesday after the team’s motion sensor camera captured him at an emergency rescue cache and alerted search managers.

The team has a few strategically placed caches, helipads and shelters across the North Shore where lost people can hunker down and wait for rescuers to arrive, including one at Montizambert Creek west of the Cypress Mountain Resort boundaries, said Stan Sovdat, search manager.

“It’s located over a very large cliff that has claimed a few people in the past,” he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, a man called Cypress Mountain Resort to say he was lost, which triggered a relay of calls with his wife, who could help with Chinese translation, and the West Vancouver Police Department.

But North Shore Rescue members were already beginning plans to get the man out because the cache’s motion-sensing camera spotted him and emailed photos to the team’s leadership.

“We actually had images of a single person climbing up the slope,” Sovdat said. “He was looking at the camera.”

It’s the first time the camera has mobilized a response before the team had officially been tasked.

They soon connected with West Vancouver police and Sovdat reached the man over the phone, telling him to stay put. The safest way to get the skier out, he deemed, would be to land a Talon helicopter at the adjacent helipad.

Once safely on the ground, they interviewed the man and learned he’d ducked the rope at the Cypress boundary. When he realized he was lost and unlikely to make it back to the resort, he thought he’d follow the creek down to Highway 99 “not understanding the extensive cliffs below him and the massive, massive dangers for him of slipping, falling and killing himself,” Sovdat said.

Although some people are tempted to go outside the resort in search of fresh snow, the ropes are placed specifically to keep people out of potentially deadly terrain, Sovdat said.

“He was healthy and uninjured, but learned a few lessons,” he added.

And, in the North Shore Mountains, going downhill almost always leads to greater danger for the person who is lost and greater risk for rescuers trying to get them out, Sovdat said.

“It always funnels into canyons and really dense vegetation and steep, steep cliffs,” he said.

The Montizambert cache and helipad were paid for by the family of Tom Billings, a visitor from England who disappeared while hiking in the North Shore Mountains in 2014, prompting a massive search effort. His remains were found off the Howe Sound Crest Trail two years later.

Wednesday's rescue came one year to the day after the cache was first put to use by the team, when they were called to rescue a snowboarder who followed the same route into danger.

Sovdat said the team keeps in touch with the Billings family and will let them know that their donation has likely saved a life for the second time.

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