The more snow that falls, the more people flock to the backcountry playground of the Kootenays and surrounding area. Whether it is for ski touring, heli skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing or anything else, there are precautions that all should take.
Over the holidays there were stranded sledders in Revelstoke, Sicamous and the Okanagan. These events all ended with the safe return of the missing individuals, but they also required the call out of local search and rescue (SAR) assistance.
Nakusp SAR consists of roughly 10 volunteers, and the group is always looking for new people to join. In order to join, one must take a questionnaire and pass basic search and rescue training. Once a member, different courses are offered for volunteers to advance their skillset.
So what happens in Nakusp when you call 911 for a missing person or persons? First off, always call 911 rather than the direct search and rescue number. That way first responders can mobilize immediately.
Senior SAR member Ross Shkuratoff explained the call process to the Arrow Lakes News.
“When a call comes in to Nakusp SAR, I analyze the situation and figure out what we will need,” he said. “Our manager is based in Kaslo and I will contact him in case the situation develops into one where we need more resources. The amount of volunteers that are able to show up depends on who is available and what the situation is. We encourage our volunteers to always place their own family and livelihood first. As the SAR is a purely volunteer position, nobody gets paid anything.”
The area covered by Nakusp SAR is vast, running from Angel Falls to Galena Bay, to the Gerrard bridge, to Slocan and up to Retallack. That is a lot of area for volunteers to cover when a rescue situation arises.
Mark Homis with Highland Helicopters is first on the call list if an aircraft is needed, followed by Alpine Helicopters.
“After 15 years with Nakusp SAR, I really do it because it is a good feeling to be able to help people, whether they are the people that are lost, injured or stranded or the families of those people. If I get a callout during work, I miss out on a day’s wages, but it is worth it for me. Nothing is as important as helping people and this is my way of doing that.”
Shkuratoff said it isn’t just the actual SAR volunteers involved in a rescue that put in their time. There are the other volunteers, like his wife Annette, who organize food, coffee and other supplies to bring out into the field to ensure that those necessities are available to both the lost and the searchers.