Date: Friday January 29th, 2016 – Saturday January 30th, 2016
Location: Montizambert Drainage, Northwest Aspect of Strachan
Mission: Report of overdue snowboarder who had separated from his snowboarding companion shortly after leaving the boundary of the Cypress Bowl Ski Area.
Operational Period 1
NSR was contacted by Cypress Resorts and West Vancouver Police after their own investigations indicated that a 40 year old snowboarder had gone out of bounds in the upper area of Mount Strachan on Friday afternoon.
The subject was snowboarding with female friend in the early afternoon, when they decided to separate and meet up again later in the afternoon at 14:30. The female snowboarder, who had also descended into the out-of-bounds glades area, was able to make her way back to the resort after 90 minutes of hiking. Being unable to find her companion at the designated meet time, she requested the help of Cypress Patrol just before 18:00. It was immediately clear to patrol that the male snowboarder had continued downhill where they had separated.
Upon being activated, NSR initiated a full team callout with all members being asked to respond with avalanche gear and prepared to spend the night on the mountain. This callout included requesting RCMP Air 1 for aerial support and obtaining a detailed avalanche assessment by the NSR’s CAA level 2 Avalanche Technician, Doug Reid. After completing the avalanche assessment, noting heightened risk, but nonetheless declaring the target area safe to enter, the two man avalanche/ski team where able to quickly pick up the tracks descending into the Montizambert drainage.
Following the tracks downhill, the team noted 5 times where the subject sat down before proceeding further downhill. This including sitting down in front of signage indicating danger ahead. Upon reaching the snow line, the initial ski team noted the tracks continued straight into a steep waterfall area. At this time, they launched a parachute flare to which their was no response. In total 20 members, in four field teams, were engaged in the initial call.
Despite the hazardous terrain, two field teams were deployed into the target area to bracket the waterfall area as best they could. One team climbed up from the Sea-To-Sky highway searching the south arm of Montizambert Creek, reaching an elevation of approximately 500 m. The other team descended the Sunset trail and cut across to Montizambert at 400m elevation, where they were able to make their way close to the waterfall. Both of these field teams stayed in the field all night, coming out at 08:00 on Saturday morning.
Once it became clear that the tracks continued into the waterfall area, and being unable to obtain voice contact, a risk assessment determined that it was unsafe to continue further into the area until dawn. At approximately 02:00 in the morning on Saturday, the other field teams were withdrawn from the area.
This area is steep, slippery, treacherous and unfortunately, a common area for out-of-bounds boarders and skiers to find themselves in. Field teams that were deployed into the drainage spent 12 hours slogging in some of the worst terrain the North Shore has to offer. If there is one education point to take from calls like this, it is that going downhill on the North Shore, once you become lost, is almost certainly going to lead to an impassible waterfall or cliff-band. Stay put, call for rescue, and if you absolutely have to, try and go back the way you came in.
Unrelated Concurrent Rescue (Contributed by NSR member Ryan Morasiewicz)
While the operation was proceeding for the missing snowboarder, a team of 3 was concurrently tasked to snowshoe up to Bowen Lookout to try and establish voice contact with the subject. Once there these members set off parachute flares and bear bangers, but we received no response. Shortly thereafter, RCMP Air 1 arrived on scene and began a search pattern with their Forward Looking Infra-red (FLIR). They spotlighted an area, and search crews were surprised to hear over the radio that they had located two skiers, not the single snowboarder that they were looking for.
These skiers had previously gone out of bounds west off of Sky Chair and missed the Howe Sound Crest Trail that would have taken them back to the ski hill. Having realized their error, they had started the long arduous climb back uphill when the helicopter located them. Luckily, they had cell phone coverage and they phoned Cypress resort who immediately put them in touch with NSR search managers. The managers were able to get the GPS coordinates off the skiers’ cell, and told them to stay put and that a nearby search crew would come to them.
Despite being less than 300m “as the crow flies” away, the search team on Bowen Lookout took over an hour to reach the skiers. The terrain was very difficult, alternating between a closed in bushwack to more open slopes where searchers struggled through thigh-deep snow (even with snowshoes).
Eventually the search team reached the skiers. They were uninjured and in good condition, and very thankful for crews’ efforts. With a beaten track to follow, the group slowly made their way back to Bowen Lookout and down to the pumphouse road, where they met up with Cypress crews for a lift back to the SAR station.
Once they called in, the skiers’ actions greatly assisted with their rescue efforts. First, they STAYED PUT. Search crews had GPS coordinates off their cell phone and knew where to look. Second, they called out loudly and frequently, allowing crews to effectively zero in on their location once in the target area.
Operational Period 2
On Saturday morning Talon Helicopters arrived at sunset marina to begin an aerial search of Montizambert drainage. With NSR spotters on board, the subject was quickly spotted at the base of a waterfall in the target area. The aircraft was quickly reconfigured for a longline insertion of three members to the scene to assess the subject.
Unfortunately, deteriorating weather conditions required the flight team to abort the mission shortly after being inserted to the drainage. The helicopter returned to Sunset Marina with the rescuers and waited a number of hours for the weather to clear. Although the weather remained unsettled, there was a short gap which allowed the rescuers to make ingress a second time. After rescuers were inserted successfully, they determined that the subject was in fact deceased, and were able to recover his body from the hazardous environment.
The team offers their sincerest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.