Surviving out of bounds at Sun Peaks

One man lost on Sun Peaks for 15 hours, and how Sun Peaks is preventing further issues

The decision over whether or not to go out of bounds is something weighed by many skiers and snowboarders looking to push themselves even further.

Whether you’re prepared or not, alone or with friends, new to the mountain or a local, when you ski out of bounds you take on the risk of getting lost, getting hurt or even dying.

For Grant Tipler, the worst case scenario almost became a reality when he got lost for 15 hours while snowboarding alone on Gil’s, an out of bounds run at Sun Peaks Resort.

Tipler had trained to be a ski instructor during the 2012-13 season at Sun Peaks and returned to train as a snowboard instructor for the 2013-14 season. He’d skied Gil’s multiple times during his first season but was always with friends.

Snowghosts line the Crystal Chair at Sun Peaks, making for an eerie ride to the top. (Justin Terwiel/Submitted)

Snowghosts line the Crystal Chair at Sun Peaks, making for an eerie ride to the top. (Justin Terwiel/Submitted)

On the morning of Feb. 17, 2014, he was racing slalom before heading further up the mountain. When a man he met on the chairlift raved about the powder on Gil’s, Tipler went against his instincts and decided to go down the run alone.

He planned to take the route he knew on Gil’s, but fell and got disoriented. That’s when the man from the chairlift showed up again.

“I said ‘I’m trying to get to this route,’ and he said ‘just go down from here and you’ll be fine.’ Then he pointed out a route to take and just zoomed off.

“I went down like he said and then it just went flat. I took my board off, started walking and hiking around. I just got totally disoriented.”

Tipler climbed to higher ground and, seeing nothing he recognized, decided to follow some snowmobile tracks in the snow. He went around in circles and hit dead ends while trying to follow different sets of tracks.

Although he had a cellphone, Gil’s sits in an area without service. He had no water, no food, no transceiver and only his racing clothing and helmet. He had told no one where he was going.

“The temperature dropped to, I think, -10 C that night, which was quite lucky because the week before it was -27 C … I wouldn’t have survived, I don’t think.”

When night fell, Tipler abandoned his snowboard and kept following the snowmobile tracks.

“I did stop for half an hour. I was so tired and I got into the trees cause the wind was blowing. After about half an hour I was starting to shake. I started breaking down a little bit actually, thinking ‘I don’t want to die out here, no one will find me.’”

“I started tripping as well, later on, thinking I could see things coming. I started thinking about cougars and stuff. I kept thinking, ‘is that something in the bushes or is that something running at me?’ Eventually as the light faded, I saw the groomers in the distance. But they were far and really high.”

Sun Peaks had certain runs lit up to be groomed for the morning. It was about 11:30 p.m. when Tipler decided to climb toward the lights on the groomed runs.

“They kept appearing and then disappearing. I was starting to get disheartened and they’d appear again just as I was feeling at my lowest,” he said.

When the lights weren’t visible, Tipler followed the lighter clouds in the sky.

“The snow was up to my waist. I was dropping all the time and falling into the snow… When I stopped that’s when I started to freeze so I knew that I couldn’t stop. I never stopped walking for practically the whole 15 hours.”

“Eventually I looked into the distance. I could see, that’s a groomed run, and I was like, I’ve made it.”

Tipler made it to the hotel at 4:30 a.m. He’d been lost for about 15 hours. His friends had noticed his absence but no one had reported him missing.

He wasn’t the only person to get lost on Gil’s last season. Kamloops Search and Rescue president Alan Hobler said at least eight people were rescued last season.

Jamie Tattersfield, manager of mountain operations at Sun Peaks Resort, can recall two specifically who were lost on Gil’s.

“We had quite an extensive system of signs on there that told people [they’re] leaving the patrolled area and it also told them that they shouldn’t go there unless they’re properly equipped,” Tattersfield said.

“In spite of that, we still ended up with quite a few people getting lost in Gil’s terrain out there and the reason for that is more geographical than anything else,” Tattersfield said. “The terrain tends to pull you away from the ski area once you get below a certain point.”

When Sun Peaks expanded its boundary this season, a 4.5-kilometre fence was put up in Gil’s terrain with signage that points the way back to the resort.

“So now if you get down to this sort of terrain trap, you’re going to run into this rope boundary. Then all you have to do is follow it out and you’ll be safe,” Tattersfield said.

“Usually when people get lost it may not be lack of equipment but it’s definitely lack of thought,” Tattersfield said.

Tipler said that this was true in his case.

“It’s a risk you take anywhere you go, if you go under the rope. I knew better. I knew that I shouldn’t have gone out there without a transceiver but I didn’t really listen to my instincts,” Tipler said.

“It was a life changing experience to come that close to possibly freezing outside. It gives you a different perspective on things.”

This season, things look a little better at Sun Peaks, with no reported incidents of people getting lost.