A major sigh of relief this weekend from family and friends of Julie Abrahamsen – the 20 year-old skier who went missing at Whistler-Blackcomb went she followed friends out of bounds on the backside of the mountain’s glacier.

Despite spending three chilly days and nights, she survived the ordeal, carried by determination to make it out. Her happy ending came Saturday morning when search and rescue crews found her stunned and dehydrated – but alive – from where the grateful skier was airlifted to a nearby clinic and on to reconnect with her loved ones.

A joyous occasion. I’m very glad this ended well.

With all this said, this touches on a topic that some may find thorny. Indeed, it’s a heated debate for many, and one taken up by Steve Casamiro on The Adventure Life three years ago. The question remains, and here it is now:

Who should pay for skier search and rescue? Especially when a single mission can easily top $50,000 – to say nothing of the fact that rescuers put their lives on the line each time they suit up to do their jobs.

Let me be very clear. When someone is lost in the wilderness, search and rescue goes out by default. That’s not up for debate. Rescue comes first when someone is lost. They’re cold, wet, hungry and in peril. Everything else is simply details.

But it’s a valid question. Especially when, despite clearly marked ski runs and warnings not to veer away from them, some folks simply go out of bounds. And quickly find they’re in over their head.

In Canada, those costs typically come from the government’s purse strings – both federal and provincial – along with the ski resort in question. In December 2012, three snowboarders on Vancouver’s north shore required rescue within a week. All had gone out of bounds. Cypress Mountain gave one of the snowboarders a $10,000 bill to cover part of his tab.

Grouse Mountain has done the same for years.

It’s a contentious issue, and some people say it’s not a good idea to charge lost folks for their rescue. If a skier got lost, for example, and knew he’d be on the hook for a hefty bill in the mail, he might have second thoughts about sending out a distress signal. That’s a dangerous game for the skier, or hiker, snowboarder/person lost in the wild.

Survival comes first. Lost people need to know that.

Still, much of that bill is footed by Joe Taxpayer. So how do we proceed? Some have suggested skiers buy ‘search and rescue’ insurance. Others, that avalanche/survival training be mandatory before hitting the slopes. Tell me, what do YOU think? I like the idea of shared costs. That’s as had a stance as I’ll take on this issue that creeps up every year.

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