On the afternoon of Sunday Dec 11, NSR was activated to search for two skiers who had gone out of bounds and became lost. Cypress Ski Patrol was able to locate their tracks going into Tony Baker Gully. The skiers initially indicated they were on Black Mountain, on the other side of Cypress Bowl. NSR had intermittent cell contact with the two 40 year old male skiers and we were able to get a location from their phone putting them at 700M in Tony Baker Gully.
Avalanche conditions, as rated by Avalanche Canada, were high. NSR members who are CAA Level 1 and 2 certified as well as a member who is a certified ACMG Ski Guide conducted two stability tests Sunday evening. These tests confirmed the high rating with a very concerning layer 100 cms down, which had the potential to create very large avalanches. Cypress Ski Patrol reported that they had been able to generate avalanches earlier in the day by ski cutting slopes. Finally, the NSR team in the helicopter reported that they could see avalanche activity in the area. NSR search managers reviewed this information and determined it would be unwise to commit teams further into Tony Baker gully as it would endanger rescuers, and could bring avalanches down on top of the missing skiers.
A decision was made to wait until first light to attempt a HEC (human external cargo) long line helicopter rescue. NSR texted the subjects to let them to know to hunker down for the night and provided survival information to them. However, it was going to be a cold night for them as they were not prepared to stay overnight.
At 06:00 NSR crews met at Cap Gate SAR station and prepped for the HEC operation. At 07:30 a Talon helicopter arrived and loaded 3 NSR members into the machine for a reccy flight. During the flight it became apparent that due to low cloud in the valley it was more likely that the long line should be attempted from Cypress Parking. The cloud cleared long enough to spot the subjects, and the helicopter headed to Cypress parking for rigging.
Once rigged, 3 NSR members were long lined into the subjects location, which was in and out of cloud cover. Very careful analysis of the location was performed prior to the insertion to ensure that the NSR members were not exposed to dangerous conditions. The subjects were below avalanche terrain but were located on a slight rise and below some large timber making the location relatively safe. The subjects were given heat vests and puffy jackets and then were put into harnesses. Just before the clouds closed in again, the subjects and rescuers were able to long line back to Cypress Parking. The skiers were assessed by BC Ambulance, but despite being extremely cold, the skiers were ok.
NSR is extremely happy that the subjects were uninjured, were able to survive the very cold night, and were not hit by an avalanche while they were waiting. Earlier in the day the two skiers had been hit by an avalanche, but luckily survived it and were uninjured.
Members of the public should note that if they choose to recreate during times of high avalanche danger, in avalanche terrain, they should not expect a rescue, and they may be on their own. NSR cannot commit rescue crews into areas where the likelihood of members getting caught in an avalanche is high. In this case there was avalanche activity seen all around where the subjects were located, and down into the gully. As well the skiers indicated they heard avalanches coming down around them all night. Had rescue crews attempted to access them by ground – it is almost a certainty that our members would have been involved in an avalanche.
If you are heading into the backcountry, make sure you check the avalanche forecast, get some training, and bring the proper equipment. Ducking the ropes at a ski resort with your downhill gear is not backcountry skiing – it is a recipe for disaster. We can guarantee you that those 4 turns of powder the subjects got was not worth risking their lives for 22 hours in freezing conditions in avalanche terrain (as well as their wives being very upset with them). Their seasons passes have also been revoked. However, they are VERY lucky they were not killed in the gully – we have had many fatalities in Tony Baker gully. Had the weather not cleared enough for a long line rescue – they would still be up there.
This week is looking very cold, and dangerous avi conditions persist. Stay warm and stay safe out there and think about the fact we might not be able to come get you if you are looking for a few extra turns.
Note: Regarding comments about charging for rescue – please read our policy on this.
News articles covering the rescue –