Search and Rescue crews operating in Kamloops and the Okanagan are preparing for a busy winter season of backcountry rescues as people continue to explore the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The B.C. Search and Rescue Association recorded the highest number of incidents ever in July with 333 search and rescue related events. The trend of outdoor exploration is expected to continue into the winter season, said Ed Henczel, with Central Okanagan Search and Rescue.
Fourteen new rescue members are being put through snowmobile training, avalanche training and avalanche recovery team training this winter, he said, adding that roughly 24 volunteers already have that certification with the search and rescue team.
“We’re facing a record number of calls,” he said.
There were 71 calls recorded for COSAR since January 2020, with a busy holiday season still ahead. The rescue group averages around 60 calls a year during a regular season.
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“We’re definitely above norms this year, it’s been really busy,” he said.
The team will be paying special attention to the backside of Big White for out-of-bounds snowmobilers and skiers, Henczel said.
“That seems to be our go-to every winter. There’s perhaps a dozen calls every winter and possibly one or two there that are critical life-or-death.”
Search and rescue teams have been able to support one another in the region, so there hasn’t been any concerns for being able to respond to rescues, he said.
“The situation has not arisen yet where there are no searchers able to respond to a task,” he said. “We want people to be cautious but we think we’ve got it covered.”
The team has six snowmobiles, a tracked UTV and will be purchasing another snowmobile with a gaming grant, he said. They also lean on the Kelowna Snowmobile Club for extra help.
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COSAR has 50 active members and over the last few years the rescue group is seeing more and more winter searches. Combine that with COVID-19, and they could see a lot of calls, Henczel said.
“The stakes are a little higher.”
The Kamloops Search and Rescue crew is also preparing for a busy winter.
“I think a lot of people will be dipping their toes into skiing and snowboarding this year in the backcountry,” said Jeremy Markel, winter mountain operations rescue operator.
With 12 additional new members, the group has 50 volunteers, which is a typical number for the winter season.
Salmon Arm and Sicamous is a sledding mecca so they often assist those Search and Rescue teams during the winter, he said.
Sun Peaks, Porcupine Meadows, Greenstone Mountain, Lac Le Jeune and Jamieson Creek are the six key areas the group responds to during the winter months, Markel said.
READ MORE: 2019 one of Kamloops Search and Rescue's busiest years
Mary Clayton, communications director with Avalanche Canada, said resources for avalanche preparedness instructors have been in high demand and they have been hearing about an increase in demand for avalanche training courses.
The non-profit offers a trip planner and resources for avalanche safety planning online. Search and Rescue teams recommend backcountry explorers to create a trip plan and leave it with a family or friend prior to an outdoor excursion.
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