Night Vision Technology Aids in Successful Midnight Avalanche Rescue

Alex Mangels | | AvalancheAvalanche
avalanche rescue night vision
A member of North Shore Rescue using night vision goggles. Credit:

Using night vision technology, Whistler and North Shore search and rescue teams worked together on a midnight rescue of two skiers stranded by an avalanche. Around 6 PM on Wednesday, March 10, Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) was alerted that a Size 3 avalanche had trapped two ski tourers on Fissile Mountain, BC.

A deep snowpack on the steep southwest slope posed a dangerous position for the skiers. Based on WSAR avalanche technicians’ recommendations, the skiers carefully made their way towards a more established route to take shelter. Here, they would dig a snow cave as shelter and wait for the rescue teams to arrive for extraction.

night vision mountain rescue
Mountains viewed with night vision goggles. Credit: Jarrett Lunn/Talon Helicopters

Initially, the plan was to fly at first light to rescue the skiers. However, added concern came from their improper preparation to spend a night in the elements. Just after 9 PM, while digging their snow cave, the skiers contacted rescue volunteers, informing them that they were experiencing cold chills. The revelation prompted immediate action.

With temperatures at 10 degrees Fahrenheit and windy conditions, rescuers faced a difficult decision regarding their approach. Consultation between WSAR and North Shore Rescue led to a plan to drop overnight packs to the skiers to last them until morning. After analyzing the area, they decided that there was a space suitable for landing near the trapped skiers. They loaded up a North Shore helicopter equipped with night vision imaging technology and completed the rescue just after midnight.

“Whistler SAR would like to thank NSR for their careful consideration in this matter. This type of rescue is not unlike other SAR operations in which there exists an inherent element of risk. The volunteer SAR community will continue to explore and develop tools that seek to mitigate these risks and that is the lens through which [night-vision imaging system] rescue should be viewed. Recreationalists should not be interpreting this as a solution to poor planning. The conditions for this type of operation were almost perfect and clear starry nights are not a common commodity in the Coast Mountains.”

WSAR statement

Night vision imaging is a relatively new addition to the avalanche rescue arsenal. The technology has largely been restricted to military and law enforcement by regulation in Canada. North Shore Rescue has recently been approved to start using night vision, which extends their search hours. With avalanche danger increasing as of late, search and rescue operations can only be improved by this addition.

Fissile mountain night vision
Fissile Mountain in the spring. Credit: kcxd/flickr

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