Snowboarder’s rescue sparks billing debate in Canada

Snowboarding in the backcountry. Photo: Ham Hock, CC some rights reserved

It’s not a new question: If people take unnecessary risks in the wilderness, should they be billed to recover costs of search and rescue efforts?

The discussion came up in Canada recently after a 33-year-old snowboarder got lost for over two days at a resort in British Columbia. (Though now living in B.C. Sébastien Boucher is originally from Gatineau, which made this a story with local connections in Ottawa.)

It ended well – Boucher was found, exhausted and cold, but otherwise uninjured. But Cypress Mountain Resort says they will send a bill for $10,000 – to partially cover expenses and lost revenue. (The resort states it diverted employees and shut down a ski run to conduct the search.) If the proposed bill recovers money from Boucher, Cypress Mountain says that will be donated to the rescue organization.

The specifics in this individual story have an element of “he said, she said”. It has been alleged that Boucher intentionally ignored signs and safety barriers to go his own way – into danger, as it turned out. Boucher and his friends say no, he was distracted after learning about the sudden death of a close friend.

The rescue was complicated by Boucher’s decision to keep moving and not sleep. While that may have kept him alive, it made searcher’s work more difficult.

It’s worth noting the area’s rescue service is not planning to bill Boucher. It fact they say it’s a bad idea, according to this report by CTV British Columbia:

North Shore Rescue team leader Tim Jones said he advises members not to get tangled up in debates about forcing people to pay for their rescues, but noted that fines can actually do more harm than good.

“We can’t be put in a position that we’re chasing people because they don’t want to get caught, or get found,” Jones said.

“Most people who get lost or injured it’s because they make a mistake or something happens that’s out of their control,”

Having said that, Jones was not impressed by Boucher’s behavior:

“…he intentionally went out of bounds. No bones about it. He’ll probably do it again.”

Taking a look at “Who should pay for rescuing wayward adventures?” CBC found opposition to billing for rescue, as articulated by Dwight Yochim, with Coquitlam Search and Rescue:

“What concerns us is the media and the public look at it as though the person has done a bad thing and should be charged for it. That causes us no end of grief,” Yochim said by phone.

“People who hear about the threat of getting charged — we’re afraid that if something like that comes in it may cause family and friends to launch a search, which could be fatal,” because of the dangers involved, he said.

So, there are good arguments for and against fines.

How do you see this?

Is it worth looking at motive to sort out who gets lost through mishap, verses those who (some say) “were asking for it”?

If you go that route, though, then the question of competence also arises. Should people who are too ignorant to safety engage in wilderness activities be fined if they get into trouble? (Of course, the ignorant are often unlikely to know what they don’t know!)

It does seem to come down to behaving responsibility and using common sense, though goodness knows both of those qualities can be in short supply.

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4 Comments on “Snowboarder’s rescue sparks billing debate in Canada”

  1. jeff says:

    Build a rescue fee into the ticket fee or parking fee or take out an insurance policy to cover such events unless it can be proven the client was negligent and thereby has an obligation to compensate the service. We pay a price in our telephone bill for 911 service.

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  2. Hank says:

    The cost of rescue of people who clearly put themselves in dangerous situations (despite public warnings not to do so) should not be borne by the general public. Otherwise, what’s the incentive to the “rule-breaker” to do the responsible thing and obey the warnings. There have to be consequences for inappropriate actions.

    Maybe depriving them of something they really want (such as a multi-year ban on the use of mobile devices (iPhones, etc)) following such a rescue would curb their enthusiasm for reckless action!

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  3. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    It should work the same way here in NY. The hikers, campers, kayakers, etc should have to pay to use state lands and waters to help offset the costs involved in maintaining the lands and waters.

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  4. Mark says:

    Out of bounds rescues should all be billed regardless of the mindset or motivation of the person needing rescue. Skiers in the Alps are billed for both on piste and off piste rescue. As a matter of routine skiers in those countries buy insurance. Careless and thoughtless snow riders and adventure sports participants endanger rescuers and cost taxpayers money. Got a guess as to how much it costs to fly a helicopter ? As a former rescuer I see the potential of rescue fees as a potential incentive to remind people to the some responsibility for their actions. Those who voluntarily take risks should be prepared to cover the cost of rescue. As a SCUBA diver I carry insurance to cover air evacuation that I may someday need to get me to a hyperbaric chamber. Such evacs are customarily excluded from standard health insurance. Our actions have consequences and costs and we all need to take personal responsibility.

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