Three skiers were rescued from an avalanche Saturday afternoon near Needle Peak off the Coquihalla Highway near Hope, B.C.
Chilliwack Search and Rescue's Dan McAuliffe said two of the skiers were caught in the slide around 3 p.m. PT. One skier suffered significant head and facial injuries, but will survive.
McAuliffe said the skiers had a GPS unit and were able to call for help on their cell phones.
'The weather was coming in and these guys could have ended up with us not being able to perform a helicopter rescue.' - Chilliwack SAR technician Dan McAuliffe
The SAR technician said the helicopter rescue was a difficult one, as the injured man had to be stabilized in the deep snow with a spinal collar, put on a stretcher, and then lifted out on a long line.
McAuliffe said all the skiers were wearing avalanche balloons that inflate and help keep skiers above the snow in an avalanche. However, he said the injured skier was swept under and hit by debris as snow roared down the mountain.
He was taken to hospital. The second skier's safety device worked as designed and he was not injured.
Days earlier, Chilliwack SAR cancelled a training exercise on the same mountain because of the high avalanche risk.
You can't depend on a rescue
McAuliffe said it always surprises him how easily some outdoor enthusiasts will enter terrain seasoned veterans won't. He said you can't always bank on a rescue.
"The weather was coming in and these guys could have ended up with us not being able to perform a helicopter rescue," McAuliffe said.
"There needs to be a little more judgment on people's part. People watch the CBC and see all these helicopter rescues and think it's available all the time 24-7 and don't realize we may not be able to get there depending on weather."
McAuliffe said it's also quite possible SAR could decide not to go into an area because the avalanche risk is too high.
Chilliwack SAR is an all volunteer organization that uses rented helicopters from Valley Helicopters paid for by the province.
McAuliffe said it can take half an hour or more to get a helicopter up and running for a rescue. In this case, it was already on the pad because provincial avalanche crews had been working in the area trying to reduce the avalanche risk along the Coquihalla.
He said the skiers were about a minute's flight from the highway.
It was the second avalanche to occur at nearly the same time Saturday afternoon, but in two different locations. At 3:30 p.m. PT, a snowmobiler was killed in an avalanche on Boulder Mountain near Revelstoke, B.C., that also swept away two other men who survived.
Last month, a snowmobiler died in an avalanche south of Valemount, B.C.