Given the high-risk designation of the sport, preparedness is paramount for snowmobilers and rescuers alike.
Once a month, the Vernon Search and Rescue team tries to meet the Vernon Snowmobile Association to socialize, ride the trails and practice recovery. Thursday, March 14 four members of their team took to the snowmobile trails at Silver Star Mountain.
Kevin Hillier, Vice president of Vernon SAR, has been volunteering for over 15 years. He said that it’s the relationships with the snowmobile community and the local clubs — Vernon Snowmobile Association, Hunters Range Snowmobile Association and the Lumby Mable Lake Snowmobile Association — that allow the group to be so successful when they are needed.
“We rely on the snowmobile clubs to help us out on searches if we don’t have enough members and we have a search going on,” he said, expressing his gratitude. “We call on these club members every year to help us out on long searches or when we need local expertise and actually, this year, all the clubs have helped us at one time or another with searches.”
He said some of their club’s members also volunteer to aid SAR as “convergent volunteers” to assist on tasks — these members are typically trained and have learned the proper procedures and policies necessary for a successful search or rescue. He also said it’s often where people are recruited for the SAR team because most are recreational sledders too.
Though Hillier said their call volume has remained consistent in recent years, the nature of the calls has changed. Most rescues are due to the technological advancement of the machines themselves.
“More and more, the reason we get called out is because of the technology,” Hillier said. “Inexperienced riders are able to get much further into the backcountry than they would have even five years ago and that’s what we say when we do talks and go to snowmobile clubs: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
Vernon SAR also does “extensive outreach” with snowmobile clubs to spread awareness of dangers and to make sure people are properly equipped when they head for the trails.
“Generally, we visit all the local clubs twice a season and attend all the local snowmobile events – we go to the BC Snow Show, we go to the Lumby-Mable Lake snowmobile club events, the Vernon Snowmobile association puts on a couple of events every year that we go to as well,” he said. “We chat with sledders and offer advice in terms of safety gear and generally we see a high level of compliance. In the past, people were pretty minimal in terms of what they took with them but now they are proud of what they take and we’re seeing a much higher level of preparation.”
Noting snowmobiling is a high-risk sport, Hillier also encourages sledders to call when they think the may be in trouble.
“We always say, ‘call early, call often.’ We can always go home and there’s no charge for our service,” he said. “We’re really trying to help people be safer and generally people are listening but there are also a lot more snowmobilers now too.”
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