Save us from
footing fools' bills
Cost of backcountry rescue must be recovered from
misadventurers who need the service
Last Updated: 25th January 2010, 10:29am
The skier survived a ride on a
raging avalanche, cheating death by inches when he came to a rest on the
edge of a cliff, 33 metres from the rocks below.
He may be the luckiest man in the
world, rescued from the edge of a ten-storey plunge that would have
certainly killed him, but the only title this skier deserves is selfish
Being extremely lucky doesn’t
excuse you from being extremely stupid.
The 31-year-old’s decision to ski
outside the boundaries last week at the Revelstoke Mountain Resort cost RCMP
and Revelstoke Search and Rescue thousands of dollars in time and equipment.
The helicopter needed to pluck
the man off the mountain wasn’t free — not that the so-called “victim” will
ever see a bill, or have to pay a dime towards the rescue costs.
In Canada, there’s little anyone
can do to discourage those who choose to gamble with their lives, even when
a losing bet results in massive public expense.
The same thrill-seeking halfwit
can be back on the mountain the very next day, treating boundary signs and
avalanche warnings with impunity.
It’s the Canadian way, and it
needs to be fixed.
The cliff-edge rescue was only
one in a series of out-of-bounds mishaps in B.C. last week, which saw
rescuers going after snowboarders and skiers who ignored the warning signs.
Every year in Canada’s mountains,
search and rescue crews are forced to save dozens of snowmobilers and
ski-hill scofflaws, despite avalanche danger bulletins and pleas from snow
“It doesn’t matter what we
release into the media, they just don’t get it, they think nothing will
happen to them,” Cpl. Rod Wiebe of the Revelstoke RCMP told the Sun.
“In B.C. at present, there’s no
way of recovering costs.”
The knee-jerk reaction from the
sensible masses is to fine the foolhardy, forcing them to pay for their poor
choice, and hopefully discouraging others from doing the same.
It happens that way in some U.S.
Last spring, teenager Scott Mason
was fined $25,000 after spending three nights alone on a New Hampshire
mountain, after wandering ill-prepared into the wilderness.
Maine and Vermont also have
rescue repayment laws for those who are careless about their own safety.
But a penalty-based cost-recovery
system has never found favour in Canada, because the rescuers worry it would
also discourage those in trouble from calling for help.
“There’s a concern it would
discourage someone in trouble from making the call right away, because of
the cost,” said John Kelly of the Canadian Avalanche Centre.
It’s an interesting argument —
though the pro-penalty side might claim fear of major fine would discourage
stupid behaviour in the first place.
And then there’s the system used
in European countries, like Switzerland, where the inevitable thrill-seeker
isn’t punished, but instead covered by insurance.
Insurance covers all sorts of
mishaps in the world, some predictable, some less so.
It makes sense to add backcountry
adventuring to that list.
In the European Alps, locals and
visitors are asked to purchase rescue insurance for a nominal fee — maybe
$30 for the year — in exchange for full protection in the mountains.
The cash raised helps cover the
cost of rescue, but the fee also helps to pay for manpower, training and
equipment for search-and-rescue teams.
That’s something cash-strapped
Canadian agencies would no doubt appreciate.
The financial risk would then
rest with the user — not having insurance would mean paying the full cost of
the rescue, when things go wrong.
And like car insurance, it would
allow for stupid decisions and lapses in judgment, without leaving someone
on the edge of disaster wondering if he can afford to call for help.
Best of all, Canadian police and
search-and-rescue teams would no longer be paying thousands of dollars a
day, via the taxpayer, to save people who should have known better.
In Canada, something has to
change, whether through insurance or fines.
The cost of backcountry rescue
needs to be recovered, from the people who need the service.
It’s a lot easier to tolerate a
fool, when the fool isn’t costing you money.