Search-and-rescue crews busy a B.C. ski resort with two simultaneous searches

SUN PEAKS, B.C. – An American snowboarder who spent a cold night lost on a British Columbia mountain was found safe Saturday morning, following an evening that saw two simultaneous searches outside the boundaries of the same ski resort.

A woman in her 40s from Washington state became separated from her partner after the pair went out-of-bounds at Sun Peaks Ski Resort, northeast of Kamloops, on Friday afternoon. Search-and-rescue crews found her around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Also on Friday afternoon, two sisters, aged 17 and 23, were also reported missing after skiing and snowboarding out of bounds. They were found before midnight.

Alan Hobler of Kamloops Search and Rescue said searchers faced challenging conditions looking for the women.

“I’m a little bit overwhelmed,” Hobler said Saturday after all of the search activities had wrapped up.

“It was tricky especially because we had two searches going on at the same time.”

Avalanche conditions were labelled between considerable and high, meaning human-triggered avalanches were likely, said Hobler. Wind speeds were also high.

“The two girls definitely crossed through some avalanche terrain,” he said, making it difficult or impossible for search teams to access parts of the area they were in.

A search was launched for the American snowboarder after her partner returned to the resort and called for help. Hobler said the woman spent the entire night trekking up the mountain to keep herself warm.

Sun Peaks spokesman Christopher Nicolson said jumping the boundary was a questionable move, since it’s easy to become separated and lost when skiing in the alpine.

“You can be 10 feet apart yelling at the top of your lungs, and you can’t hear your partner next door if you’re on the other side of a snow-covered tree,” he said.

The two sisters, who are from Kamloops, did not have any serious medical problems when they were found, said Hobler. They were examined by a paramedic and one of them may have had minor frostbite, he said.

“They were definitely more emotionally disturbed by the whole thing than physically,” Hobler said with a chuckle.

Nicolson said none of the boundary jumpers had proper equipment or training to ride out-of-bounds. All three went out of bounds on purpose, he said.

The lines are clearly marked with large visible poles and ropes, making it impossible not to know where the boundaries are, said Nicolson.

The searches involved about 25 people, including staff from Kamloops Search and Rescue, Sun Peaks resort staff, RCMP officers, and a team from Wells Gray Search and Rescue, based in Clearwater B.C., said Hobler.

Five snowmobiles and an RCMP helicopter were also deployed, he said.

Nicolson said Sun Peaks is considering charging the boundary-jumpers for the resources the resort spent trying to find them.

If that happens, Nicolson said the resort would only bill the skiers for the costs incurred by Sun Peaks and not any resources used by search-and-rescue teams or the police.

However, he said recovering the costs is not a primary concern, given that volunteer search and rescue teams were the ones expending the most resources.

A decision is expected within the coming days, he said.

Earlier in the week, a trio of 14-year-old boys were rescued on Christmas Eve from Sun Peaks after jumping the boundary.

Sun Peaks resources were not used in their rescue and they will not be charged, said Nicolson.

— By Steven Chua in Vancouver