Panic…. No don’t. That’s the first response you have when you realise you have a friend lost out on the mountain. Revelstoke B.C isn’t just your regular ski resort. This mother of a hill is a free riders wet dream. 5620 feet of vertical fall line with the very best of British Columbia’s famous snowfall almost 18 meters annually and that’s what makes this a destination for any skier or rider worth their salt. This mountain is anything but forgiving.
The regulars for any of our road trips Matt, Tom, Del and our friend Joe who was visiting from Oz. We were meeting with our friends who call the town of Revelstoke home. These guys are the real deal. Living day to day and meal to meal. As long as they got on the mountain they sleep better than any baby,and they know the mountain like the back of their hand.
After a massive day on the hill. Which involves a non stop top to bottom thrashing of our legs we were all ecstatic with the day’s conditions. Blue bird day and 30cm of fresh blower pow! So we regroup and decide to do one more. A wee hike into Kokanee bowl which borders the resort boundary and traverses the cat ski area next to the resort.
On the chair lift up Tom turns to me and with an exhausted look on his face says he should have done a poo at the base before we went up. No matter. This is our last one we’ll smash it out and Tom would be on the John before we knew it right? Wrong.
We all strapped in and buddies up. The buddy system is a go to for us when we ride in groups, 2 people keep each other in line of sight and in theory everyone gets home for a cold beer. The local boys stress the importance of not missing the cat track which after we come through the tree line will traverse the mountain and take us back to the resort. “What happens if we miss it I ask?” Shaun turns to me and says “just don’t” with a smile, and he was off! Untouched steep and deep deep turns. Screaming and laughing we all hit the cat track high fiving and waiting for the crew to assemble. Shit…. “Where’s Tom?”
60 seconds in a minute and each one of those drags on with no sign of Tom. After 20 minutes of yelling and waiting for him we all decided to get to the base and alert ski patrol as the resort was almost closing. The head of ski patrol listened to our report and told us that there was nothing he could do till the morning. A rescue team couldn’t do a sweep till it was light and the choppers wouldn’t fly till morning. He said there was a good chance that Tom being a good skier and an avid outdoorsman would either self rescue or know better to stay put and wait for help.
One of the longest nights of our young and irresponsible lives. What could have happened? Did he hit a tree.. Did he get cliffed out? The week previous Revelstoke had claimed 2 lives due to accidents by experienced skiers. Shit! Needless to say not much sleep that night.
Dawn. Ski patrol met us on the mountain first thing and we were straight to the top of Kokanee bowl for the the rescue sweep. We were warned by ski patrol that when we start to check tree wells to be prepared to see our friend Tom’s body lying there.Gulp. Thanking every higher being there was we arrived at the Cat Track with no sign of Tom in a tree well. Right from here we had 3000 feet of deadfall and thick woods beneath us till you hit the base.
It was time to call in air support. The chopper commenced a sweep from the cat track down the mountain. More tense minutes waiting as we heard the chopper pilot report he had spotted a body…. With the wrong coloured jacket of our friend Tom…. Apparently they had found the body of a missing person who had gone missing from town over the summer. We all looked at each other in utter disbelief! We were all silently praying that Tom was just holed up for the night somewhere in the woods tired hungry and freezing cold. A few minutes later we got the call! They found him! Our voices echoing down the mountain we all and let go of the breath we had all been holding since yesterday. The chopper set up its long line and dropped the harness down to take our friend to safety.
We raced down the mountain to see Toms face at the Heli pad in town as the Helicopter couldn’t land with him on the resort. Well words fail to describe the relief once we finally laid eyes on him but the night out in the woods in -10C temperatures no food had left him looking absolutely buggered. He had managed to dig a small snow cave insulate him but still got some frostbite to his hands. After telling us that he had gone past the Cat track, and he realised he was too far down the mountain to attempt the ascent to get out he decided to stay put and wait for the rescue he knew we would send, he turns to me and said “ I told you I needed to take a crap. I had to take one with my skis on so I wouldn’t sink through the snow!” We all burst into laughter and I’ll tell you the beers never tasted so good that night!
After this near disaster of almost loosing a friend we always take mountain safety very seriously and never ride in groups without Avalanche beacons and equipment, Avalanche and wilderness survival knowledge and a cell phone to call emergency services if need be. The best thing you can do in a situation like the one we found ourselves is DO NOT PANIC.
I would like to thank the amazing staff at the Revelstoke Search and Rescue and the Ski Patrol team of Revelstoke Mountain Resort for getting our good friend back to us safe!