Injured Skier, Cheops North 5, Glacier National Park, December 31, 2015

In the morning of December 31, 2015, a group of four skiers headed up the Connaught drainage. By mid-afternoon they had split into two groups of two skiers each. One group planned on skiing Cheops North Bowl (Cheops North 5), while the other went slightly higher to Cheops North 4. While descending Cheops North 5, one skier in the first group fell and injured her left knee. She was unable to bear weight on her left leg, and thus began a long sliding descent to the valley floor.

While this was occurring, the second group had successfully skied down Cheops North 4 and were waiting in the valley, unaware of the injury. A couple of skiers from a third group happened to ski down Cheops North 5 at this time and came across the injured skier. One person remained with the injured skier, while the other descended to inform her friends about the injury. The time was 1500 hours and the skiers in the valley called Jasper Dispatch to request assistance.

With limited daylight available, the Visitor Safety crew at Rogers Pass were able to contact Great Canadian Heli-Skiing, an operation located just outside Glacier National Park’s eastern boundary, to request helicopter assistance with the rescue. Fortunately, their ski program had just finished for the day and one of their pilots was able to fly the rescue team in, pick up the injured skier who had slid to the valley bottom, and fly everyone back to Rogers Pass by sunset. The entire rescue operation was completed in one hour.

Analysis

Most notable about this rescue is its quick completion, from the time of call-in to the helicopter’s return to base for the night. Everything went perfectly in order for this to happen. This rescue is also an excellent example of how Parks Canada collaborates with others, including Heli-Cat Canada member organisations such as Great Canadian Heli-Skiing, to provide or receive professional assistance in rescue or crisis situations. If the call to Jasper Dispatch had come in 10-15 minutes later, or if the Great Canadian Heli-Skiing pilot was not available to assist with such short notice, a helicopter rescue would most likely not have been possible. This means the Visitor Safety crew would have skied up by headlamp with all the rescue equipment, then towed the patient back to Rogers Pass. With temperatures hovering around -20°C, further issues could have arisen such as patient hypothermia.

This is the time of year when days are still short and nights are quite long. When temperatures are in the negative double digits, are you prepared? Be sure to plan your day accordingly, and make sure that you:

  1. Plan to be back at your vehicle, not just through the crux, before sunset; 
  2. Start early and use all the daylight that these short days allow; 
  3. Carry a headlamp and be prepared to ski out in the dark if needed; 
  4. Carry extra layers of warm clothing, as you never know when you will need them; 
  5. Have a communication device to call for outside help or to chat with other members of your group if you split up.

Enjoy the fine conditions that this season has offered up so far. Just be sure that you have the appropriate knowledge, equipment and skills for self-rescue.