Pressure mounts to bill lost skiers for rescue costs

Charging fees could mean even more problems, argues search and rescue association


Expensive rescue: Helicopters can cost up to $3,000 an hour

The snowboarder was suitably chastened when he returned to warmth and safety. He thanked his rescuers, and voiced remorse for straying out of bounds on Cypress Mountain, forcing crews to pluck him from a snowy ravine near North Vancouver, B.C. “I’ll never do it again,” said the 30-year-old, whose name the rescue team tactfully withheld. “Nobody should.” But for some, the apology didn’t cut it. After three high-risk rescues in the area in three weeks, the familiar demand that wayward adventurers start paying the cost of their own salvation gained renewed traction in B.C., where more than half of Canada’s emergency searches take place each year.

Make that four rescues. On Sunday, volunteers with the North Shore Search and Rescue team were back among the firs—this time to save a snowshoer who had fallen and suffered a head injury on nearby Hollyburn Mountain. All three of the previous rescuees were people who had deliberately strayed from delineated ski zones—a fact that further stoked public ire. Angry citizens lit up the lines on call-in shows, while the Vancouver Sun published an editorial decrying the “cost and risk to the brave volunteers who donate their time and expertise to help people in trouble.” Operators of the Cypress Mountain ski resort actually billed one of the snowboarders, 33-year-old Sebastien Boucher, $10,000 for its part in a three-day search that ended with his miraculous rescue.

But generally, the big-ticket expenses don’t fall to the adventurers, or to the rescue teams themselves, which are staffed mainly by well-trained volunteers. Those bills are forwarded to the provincial government, which treats them as the price of B.C.’s thriving trade in outdoor recreation. But the price can be dear. Helicopters alone can cost about $3,000 per hour, and it’s not uncommon for a single search to run more than $100,000.

Still, rescue organizations oppose the idea of billing or fining those who require their services. Don Bindon, president of the B.C. Search and Rescue Association, worries that fear of a hefty fine would discourage people from calling for help. Worse still, he says, is the prospect of family members or friends trying to rescue loved ones in order to avoid a punishing bill: “Then we’ve got a whole pile of amateurs up on a hill. We want people to phone us. We don’t want them to wait, and we don’t want their friends to go get them.”

Invoicing rescuees could also place safety organizations in the awkward position of providing evidence against thrill-seekers who defy public warnings, says Mary Clayton, spokeswoman for the Canadian Avalanche Centre in Revelstoke, B.C. “We’re wary of pointing fingers, except in cases where people are clearly unprepared and negligent,” she says. Instead, the group advocates for better education about avalanche risk, and the need to take proper equipment into the back country. That might not save the worst risk-takers from their own stupidity. But it would cut down on the workload for rescue crews. And that, presumably, would free up time and resources to help those who’ve done nothing worse than make an honest mistake.


Pressure mounts to bill lost skiers for rescue costs

  1. I’ll agree with such fees when smokers are charged for the health care costs their habit generates.

    • Yes but then we have to go after the people who don’t exercise; who are obese; who drink excess alcohol; who practice unsafe sex; etc.,
      As it is we do not pay for cosmetic and unnecessary medical procedures. We also do not pay for dental & prescription drugs. We do not pay for ambulance trips. I do not think that it is too much to ask that people pay a portion of their rescue bill when they are purposefully ignoring the safety rules. This is a rich person’s sport, as is sledding. You aren’t going to find any dirt-poor people on the slopes or on a ski doo.

  2. In some provinces people are billed for their trip to the hospital in the ambulance. They pay if they don’t have special coverage. Often the bill is around $600 or more dollars. I know they will forgive you the bill if you are without funds. Maybe these people shouldn’t have to pay the whole rescue bill, but paying a portion is not unreasonable. Skiing and snowboarding are VERY expensive sports. The daily ticket is usually nearly $100 dollars and the equipment and clothing is costly. It is not poor people who are doing this sport.

    • I hear were you are coming from, but I don’t think a token amount would act as a disincentive.

      Anything more than a token amount would probably create a disincentive for people to make the immediate call for rescue. As mentioned, this may lead to groups of amateurs heading out to search, leading to more casualties, ultimately a bigger mess and more risk for the rescue pro’s.

      As mentioned this is probably the cost of doing business in a province with a major adventure tourism industry. Instead of having the general population subsidize these rescues, maybe they could place some sort of surcharge on the revenue generated by the industry, to create pool of money to fund S&R? At least then S&R would primarily be funded by the people who are most likely to call upon the service.

  3. Sports people or others who go outside national or provincial parks should have to get a permit which requires rescue/recovery insurance coverage and if they don’t, then they should have to incur the costs.

    • On its face, that seems like a good idea. But you can’t really rely on insurance. As soon as there is a claim, they will look for any reason possible to deny the claim.

      “Oh, you had a hangnail when you were 7, you should have never been out in the back country. Your policy is void”

  4. In Colorado you buy a CORSAR (Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue) card for $3 per year. The money goes into a separate fund which covers all S&R in the state. No card gets you a big bill if you need help. It’s a simple solution since very few outdoor users need help.

    The snowboarders get all the press but most S&R around Vancouver involves looking for old people with dementia who wander away from their homes. It’s not as high risk for the searchers but should they get billed too?

  5. Ice fisherman, skiers, mountain climbers and others that venture out in risky conditions should be billed and fined. On the other hand legitimate accidents should remain covered by Health Services. Of course donations to help support Rescue Teams are always appreciated.

    • Define legitimate accident please. Everything we do in life carries inherent risk.
      Sounds a bit like the “legitimate rape” argument.

  6. Smokers pay with their lives and sometimes take others with them.
    You can’t cure stupid. Their estates or part of their estates should be forwarded to Medical Services and the family of their 2nd smoke victims..

  7. Of course they shud pay. I have Medivac insurance and I have a “SPOT” The two combined cost $200.00 a year.

  8. You that are commenting on smokers. There is no comparison. Look at the huge tax they pay on their smokes and besides if they die younger we save on paying them OAS and CPP.
    All skiers, hunters etc can afford $200 a year for a “SPOT” and a “GEOS” search and rescue subscription. THEY SHUD PAY.

  9. They should refer to a committee of experts, i.e. SAR people… they have already said that billing is a bad idea.

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