Asulkan Hut Delivers The Goods — So Does The Heli

Post by blogger | December 3, 2013      
Planning the day.

With visibility remaining low in the alpine, we decided to head below the cabin into the trees.

Our time at the Asulkan Cabin was on a steady trend of improving snow conditions and quality skiing below timberline. On day four, with over 30 cm of fresh snow outside the cabin we were excited to get into long awaited early season powder turns.

Found some pow.

We were rewarded with great bottomless turns.

Arty shot of Louie doing his thing.

Arty shot of Louie doing his thing.

After several laps on west facing shots we were eager to get the most out of the short December days (sunset at 3:45 pm!). Louie and I headed down for another run through the trees. I took a line between two previous laps that funneled out into a shallow gully.



Alas, with too much ambition and speed, my line ended with a 20 foot cliff that dropped away to the flat bottom of the gully. Before I knew it I was soaring off the feature and landing with crumbling force that brought my knees to full compression and my face to my right knee. Having injured myself the same way a few years ago, I was immediately concerned.

With the waning light, Louie and I had a few critical decisions to make. We decided it would be best to try and make our way back to the cabin for the night, rest and reassess my injuries the next morning. I was hurting, but still in the golden hour before swelling and pain could make it impossible to cover any distance on foot. It was get to the hut NOW — or set up a snow bivvy and subsequent rescue in difficult terrain. We splinted my knee with a foam back pad out of a backpack, and I limped behind Louie as he stomped out the trail as best he could for my splitboard skis.

Boys make it back.

Lou spots Louie and Coop on the ridge below the cabin. The sighs of relief were audible. Fortunately we all had FRS radios and put them to full use during these events.


Louie and Coop arrive just as the daylight disappears.

Once back at the cabin, about an hour after the initial impact, we had the opportunity to complete a more indepth assessment of how much I’d messed myself up. Ultimately all I could do was rest, ice, elevate and ingest ibuprofen. We’d wait until morning to see how bad the swelling (or worse) would be and if it would be possible to ride out on foot.

Team Dawson evaluates the damage.

Evaluating the damage. Doctor alert, are we doing Lachman correctly? We googled it from the hut on a smartphone.

We woke up before dawn Monday morning to reassess the injury. There was a significant increase in pain with weight bearing, and the swelling had increased exponentially throughout the night. Walking out the Asulkan was not an option — especially considering the loaded up Mousetrap avalanche hazard area I’d be struggling through for hours instead of minutes. We made contact with Parks Canada, and began organizing an evacuation. The dispatcher decided that a heli-evac was going to be the best and quickest option.

Team Dawson continued to organize logistics and stomped out a landing zone and a path to the cabin. With visibility continuing to move in and out around the cabin, we remained in frequent communication with the evacuation personnel. Lou mentioned with a chuckle that here we were with satphones, 2-way radios and whatnot, and we were simply doing everything via cell phone.

Heli lands.

With a brief visibility window, the heli was able to land.

Parks Canada.

Parks Canada to the rescue.

SAR guys Andrew and Chris assess. When they arrived wearing Dynafit Vulcans, Lou knew they were the ones.

SAR guys Andrew and Chris assess. When they arrived wearing Dynafit Vulcans Lou knew they were men with their act together.

Skis loaded.

Skis loaded.

Goodbye Asulkan.

Goodbye Asulkan.

Rogers Pass Visitor Center in sight.

Rogers Pass Visitor Center in sight.

Heroes of the day.

Heroes of the day.

After loading up and waiting for another clearing in the visibility we were back at the Rogers Pass Visitors Center within ten minutes. I was incredibly impressed with the organization and smoothness of the whole operation by the Parks Canada personnel. They are true professionals in their trade. A big thanks to them for how they take time out of their day (and subject themselves to personal risk) to help others in need.

For now, I am back in Bellingham and heading to the doctor to see what the long term diagnosis is. Hopeful for more turns this season. Whatever the case, as Lou mentioned, the whole situation could have been way, way worse so we’re all grateful of the outcome.


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46 Responses to “Asulkan Hut Delivers The Goods — So Does The Heli”

  1. Louie Dawson December 3rd, 2013 1:14 pm

    Hope you heal up soon buddy! Big thanks to Parks Canada and their personnel, without them it would have been a much more heinous epic getting Coop out of there, that’s for sure.

  2. Lee Lau December 3rd, 2013 2:08 pm

    Comms, first response and SAR reaction in a nice package. Well done.

  3. Joe Risi December 3rd, 2013 2:17 pm

    Contributor guidelines: Must document all adventures success or failure for future post material on Wildsnow

    Nice job sticking to the code.

    Hope you’re healing up!

  4. Lou Dawson December 3rd, 2013 2:31 pm

    Thanks Lee, I was sure glad Coop wasn’t hurt worse. It would have been quite the situation in that case, what with him in a bivvy down near the bottom of the Tree Triangle. For a while we didn’t know if they could make it up to the cabin, so we were getting geared up to take supplies down the hill to their location. I’ll tell you one thing, I’ve made it somewhat of a personal rule to always use 2-way radios. They sure came in handy! But the comm with Park via cell phone was key, and quite appreciated. I had a satphone as well, but they never work that well in the mountains so the easy chat on cell was extra special. Only thing I would have done different now that I can Monday morning quarterback myself, is I probably should have just geared up and headed down the hill when I first hear Coop was hurt. But they made it sound on radio like he was semi-ambulatory with no head injury, so we opted to stay in the cabin. The warm stove might have had something to do with that as well (grin).

  5. wildernessburgess December 3rd, 2013 2:47 pm

    Well done everyone

  6. Molly Baker December 3rd, 2013 2:49 pm

    Asulkan for Thanksgiving! What a great idea! And it looks like it was epic until…Heal quick! Hope to see you in Alaska again this year.

  7. Tom R December 3rd, 2013 3:10 pm

    Hi Lou –
    Heliskiing is great and almost as good as skitouring.I have attached an article about a “ski buddy ” being sued.
    When heliskiing, you usually buddy up for a run or a day. The choice of a partner can be pretty random, it can be as simple as the person you are standing beside at the top of your run. It is an unpaid,volunteer position
    Keep up your good work on Wildsnow – always entertaining.

  8. Dan December 3rd, 2013 3:21 pm

    I am interested to know about the rescue costs and details of how those costs are to be paid. Alpine club memberships? Other insurance? Did Parks Canada require a credit card number before heading out?, etc. Thanks in advance and best wishes for a speedy recovery Coop.

  9. Lee Lau December 3rd, 2013 3:28 pm

    Parks Canada SAR expenses are covered by the Canadian taxpayer. Bievenue au Canada.

  10. Louie December 3rd, 2013 3:30 pm

    I’m no expert on the way rescue costs are set up in Canada. However, I bought a annual Parks Canada pass for the trip (it’s cheaper than paying for 5 days, and I’m hopefully going to be at Rogers a few more times this season). As far as I understand it, a pass is required to recreate in the park, and the pass pays for potential rescue fees.

  11. Lee Lau December 3rd, 2013 3:36 pm

    Nope – SAR would not have charged for services even if you didn’t have your Parks Canada Pass.

  12. Lou Dawson December 3rd, 2013 3:37 pm

    What is more, you won’t pay for a heli (or other type of) rescue in the U.S. either. It is covered by the U.S taxpayer. Bievenue au USA (grin). Though in either case, I’d imagine donations are welcome.

    Also, in Colorado we have a system called CORSAR that’s quite nice. You pay for it with all hunting/fishing/atv licenses (or you can buy stand-alone version), and it reimburses rescue folks for costs.

    Lee, is there something like that we could do while in Canada?


  13. andrew December 3rd, 2013 3:40 pm

    That’s “au” Canada, Lee. Bienvenue au Canada. Let’s use correct French with our American cousins ;o) I poked around a bit and it looks like rescue fees might be covered by park pass buyers, as the last poster mentioned.

  14. Louie December 3rd, 2013 3:42 pm

    That’s great! Thanks for the clarification Lee.

  15. Lou Dawson December 3rd, 2013 3:45 pm

    French grammar correction noted and edited.

  16. Lee Lau December 3rd, 2013 3:46 pm

    Damn my Francais is merde. Might as well add that if you need rescue in the rest of BC that costs is covered by the Provincial Emergency Program. You’ll not need to know this but sometimes the rescuers will get a PEP number at the same time they initiate the rescue. Basically there’s no charge there.

    Some private parties have muddied the issue by trying to levy charges but that;s not be confused with SAR who do a fantastic job largely on a volunteeer basis.

    Did not know that Parks Passes paid for rescue. I thought the Parks Passes went partially to general tax revs and partially to fund Parks Canada operations.

    Anyhow this is all academic. What’s important is that flat landings suck and when the snowpack is so shallow flat landings really really suck

  17. Lisa Dawson December 3rd, 2013 4:11 pm

    Cooper, you’re a trooper! Despite the unfortunate accident, you kept a positive attitude. It was a pleasure to have you along on the trip. Heal fast so we can do more.

  18. Skyler Mavor December 3rd, 2013 5:24 pm

    Coop! Bummer to hear about your knee. I’m glad that the rescue went smoothly. Get well soon!

  19. Sharon December 3rd, 2013 6:11 pm

    Glad the trip turned out ok and your buddy will be able to board again this year!

    Nice to prepare for the crash… just in case….

    on a more positive note, looks like the conditions up there weren’t bad! Or does the area still need more coverage.

  20. Grahamy Crackers December 3rd, 2013 6:36 pm

    Coop! thanks for telling the story; as somebody else said, fat to flat is a bad story. I hope you get recovered fast and get more turns this season!

  21. AndyC December 3rd, 2013 6:52 pm

    I’m glad things turned out as well as could be expected. A sidenote excerpt from an appeal for funds posted on the turns-all-year website:

    “I am a rescue technician and EMT with the Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team. We fly around 80 missions per year in the Pacific Northwest and are in many instances the last resort for people in need. We are a team of 30, 27 volunteers and 3 deputies, that don’t hesitate to respond to emergencies. As long as we are patrolling the backcountry there is hope for a swift rescue and transportation to definite medical care. We do not charge for rescues !

    Federal funding for helicopter fuel and maintenance was recently eliminated and is threatening to ground us for good. Snohomish County found emergency money to keep the Team aloft through 2014, but after that there is high probability of no money. We seek to cover expenses of $150,000 per year. It is now up to our community to save the Team and SnoHawk 10 (a UH-1H Huey) which have both stood ready 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the past 40 years. We have been and will be there for our community, now we ask our community be there for us.

    We are having a fundraising drive including a casual, social evening with dinner, raffle and auction coming up on April 19 next year. The Mountaineers is graciously hosting us in their main clubhouse in Seattle and we will put on a great evening for all our friends and supporters in the community. See the enclosed Save the Date flier. We are pursuing all avenues for sustained funding for the Helicopter Rescue Team. In the meantime we hope for a strong support from our community.”

    Times they are achanging with a take-no-hostages drive to reduce federal expenditures. I’m sitting here 18 miles from Paradise with wonderful new powder, very cold nights, and sunny days with at least a 3-day Mt. Rainier NP closure due to insufficient funds.

  22. Coop December 3rd, 2013 6:56 pm

    Thanks for all the healing wishes! It was indeed epic conditions until the unfortunate flat landing. Couldn’t have asked for a better crew to be in the backcountry with!

  23. FKarcha December 4th, 2013 10:31 am

    It’s correct that a portion of park fees cover SAR response in National Parks and that Parks Canada has a policy to not charge for rescue (as do most every Federal and Provincial SAR providers do in Canada). Not purchasing a pass will clearly open you up to recovery costs should Parks Canada choose to pursue them, even if they generally choose not to.

    Also, if your dog is stuck in technical terrain:

  24. Zach W December 4th, 2013 2:07 pm

    Strong work, team. It seems like the situation was handled the best it could have. It was great to see everyone home with their chins up and laughing. Wouldn’t have expected anything less!

  25. Douglas December 4th, 2013 2:30 pm

    Glad your okay bud. Nice work all.

    I have also taken that heli ride. Those Parks Mountain Safety folks are top notch.

    For folks that like to tour at Rogers Pass and have a cell phone, there are two carriers that offer service. They are: Bell and Telus. Last I knew, Rogers (that really is the name) does not have coverage at The Pass.

    Both Telus and Bell have Google Maps of their coverage on the web. They are not perfect.

    Bell Coverage:

    Telus Coverage:

    *Enter ‘Rogers Pass’ in either search bar*

    Sorry if the links are not appropriate, hope it helps.

    I believe a few folks at Parks Canada have been keeping detailed info on signal strength in the park. I will check into it.

    As you can see on the coverage maps, the signal is definitely not everywhere around The Pass and like I said, the map is not perfect. A few folks do carry a UHF Radio or Sat Phone as well but that’s a whole nutha story.

    Happy Thanksgiving ya’ll.

  26. Blake December 4th, 2013 2:44 pm

    FKarcha – right in your link, on the dog rescue – the owner had to pay for the rescue? Here I am thinking how cool this free rescue service is, then I read that. Is it just because it was a K9 and not a human?

  27. FKarcha December 4th, 2013 3:48 pm

    Yes, that was what I was indicating in my post. My understanding is that the owner agreed to pay the cost for the helicopter (~$2000/hour), not costs for man power.

    And yes, likely because it was a dog, on terrain no dog should be in. Some groups, most recently North Shore Rescue, do this without charging in order to prevent spontaneous volunteers from making attempts – which would likely require NSR to come for them anyways.

    Point being: don’t be a bozo, buy your Park pass.

  28. stevenjo December 4th, 2013 4:38 pm

    We get a lot of discussion on rescue costs in Oregon especially when someone goes missing on on Mt. Hood, where there is no shortage of Portland news crews.

    Lou makes a good point about rescue costs not so much free as it is, ‘paid in advance’ via federal and state taxes, although even this is a gray area. Most rescue workers here are volunteers so costs are generally limited to county sheriffs staff time, equipment depreciation, and of course the helicopter, if one is called in.

    In Oregon (and perhaps other states?) we have access to the National Guard Blackhawk helicopters and private med-a-flight outfits, the latter of which get first dibs should they accept, in which case the bill goes to directly to the rescue-ee. If they pass, the call goes to the Nat. Guard who flies on the tax-payers dime, but even then, its counted toward a quota of hours they would have to make up via training. In that respect, we’re essentially using services already paid for via state and national defense funding.

    All that said, our volunteer teams probably wouldn’t mind more dedicated funds from and for users who have a higher likelihood of needing rescue…. if nothing else to replace worn equipment paid for out of our wallets.

  29. Lou Dawson December 4th, 2013 5:29 pm

    Stuck in air travel limbo, but enjoying the comment thread about rescue costs. Thanks for all the facts you guys! The dog rescue raises interesting issues. If someone had been hurt on that rescue, one can only imagine the repercussions.

    As it is around the world, the rescue/cost scene is indeed super variable. Want a rescue in Antarctica? I’ve heard you’d better have deep pockets or good insurance. Want one in Cham? Just have your alpine club membership? Want one in most if not all of the U.S. and Canada? Just call.

    And yes, where rescue is “free” it’s important to note that contributions are always a good idea, even if the rescue was “free.”

    I’d think that eventually Obamacare will include rescue costs taken out of federal funds to reimburse locals (grin)?


  30. Mark December 4th, 2013 9:37 pm

    CORSAR card in Colorado is not insurance and does not cover helicopter or ambulance costs. I sell the cards and this comes up a lot. Local SAR, say Larimer County SAR, in the event of a rescue, would be reimbursed for their costs when a rescued individual has the CORSAR card.

  31. louis dawson December 4th, 2013 10:09 pm

    My understanding is that any government entity can apply for corsar rembursement, if not, what is the criteria?

  32. Mark December 4th, 2013 10:15 pm

    Sorry to hear of Coop’s mishap. I once hit a small cliff only to discover upon landing that flat/concave areas make for painful way to dissipate energy. I hit my head on my knee only to soon discover a nickel sized piece of my cheek skin affixed to my ski pants. Thankfully, I only had a headache and no knee damage.

  33. Joel December 5th, 2013 1:25 am

    I wasn’t there so of course I don’t know the exact details, but if you guys are going to post this on the internets, you should expect some negative feedback.

    I live in Revelstoke, so I know the area well.

    It is much easier to get out to the parking lot than skinning back up to the cabin. To me it sounds ridiculous that someone would skin up to the cabin and the next day, call in a helicopter from Golden for a last resort rescue mission.

  34. Lou Dawson December 5th, 2013 7:18 am

    Hi Joel, I can understand how it may have looked that way. Especially when you get the effect of us U.S. outsiders coming in there and using your local SAR services. All I can tell you is that in Coop’s case, limping up the hill with his leg splinted was working during the golden hour, so they went for it and made it back up to the cabin. They didn’t head down the hill for a number of reasons, mainly that it was getting dark, they didn’t have overnight gear, and while Coop appeared to be able to struggle uphill it was pretty obvious he’d not be able to ride down, on two skis or with his board assembled.

    (Another consideration was the loaded avy slopes at the Mousetrap, and not knowing if Coop could even make it through there. Nightmare scenario being him and Louie stuck in the middle of the Mousetrap gully, with Coop’s leg collapsed, no bivvy gear…)

    What was more, we had no idea what the knee injury was nor if he’d caused a head injury when he drove his knee into his jaw, and if the knee was blown it could have totally collapsed while trying to ride downhill, causing even more damage to the knee and perhaps a vicious fall. It just didn’t seem to be an option to head down.

    I don’t have any dog in this hunt, and if I felt like we’d made a bad decision I’d actually love to admit it and pick it apart as a good educational blog post, but what we did feels fine to me, and I’ve got more than 40 years of experience with this sort of thing, including being involved in accidents both as victim and volunteer SAR,

    Like I said above, only thing I would have done differently would have been to head down the hill with more gear in case they’d have had to stop and bivvy down there below the hut at the accident site.

    Joel, it might also help with understanding if you knew my personal philosophy about this sort of thing. I’m ULTRA cautious when it comes to injuries and how an accident can be compounded by efforts at self rescue. My approach is is a person is injured and I have the slightest doubt about the appropriateness of self-evac, it’s time to make the call.

    To me, it’s actually prideful and selfish when a person mucks around with self evac, not knowing the injury and involving lengthy or perhaps impossible “limp homes,” that could cause additional trauma to the victim, or create complex rescue problems instead of something as basic as a guy sitting in a hut with a known LZ fifity feet away.

    Our western civilization has created an amazing system of rescue and emergent medical care. We all support it and pay for it in various ways, and every SAR person I know is eager to help. Mindful of that, I don’t mind using the system. And who knows, perhaps a donation is appropriate.

    Mainly, a young vibrant man is ok and getting the medical care he needs for what was obviously a screw-up on his part, but what happened, happened and I’m sure Coop and Louie regret it immensely. It’s not fun getting hurt that badly. And again, no decision making process is going to be perfect.

    Again, I don’t mind picking this apart as a learning process, so fire away. And if we did make any poor decisions we’re all willing to admit to that and learn from our mistakes. To that end, I did allude to Louie it would behoove him and his friends to examine their style of backcountry skiing, self assess, and make sure they’re not treating these remote areas like they’re a ski resort. Yeah, lecture from the “Old Guide.” Had to be done.

    (Addendum: Having just spent the night on the floor of the Denver airport, apologies for any rambling I did above. I forgot to mention that another thing we were trying to do was be sure of a realistic assessment of the injury. We informally notified SAR that evening, then made the official call to dispatch around 5:00 the next morning after we got Coop up off his makeshift bed on the kitchen floor and realized he could barley walk, on 3 Ibu and a Celebrex. Again, in my experience as a first aider, guide, SAR, etc. the whole course of action was obvious, but that’s just me of course. )

  35. Kevin December 5th, 2013 7:55 am

    Do we have an update on Coop’s injuries?

  36. Lou Dawson December 5th, 2013 8:18 am

    Kevin, hopefully he wasn’t injured as badly as it appeared. Our main fear was that he might have fractured his tibia plateau along with ligament and other damage. I didn’t know what to think of the chipmunk face he developed (grin), other than to monitor after we did our exam. He came pretty close to breaking his jaw, what a nightmare that would have been. In terms of his actual injuries diagnosed after he gets an MRI and such, we’ll let him speak for himself. I think we should allow him a modicum of privacy and let him share what he feels like sharing. I’d hope the injuries were NOT as bad as we assumed, thus meaning we erred on the side of caution. Though I suppose if he wasn’t hurt as seriously as we thought, we could be criticized for over-reacting. Danged if you do, danged if you don’t, I guess…

    BTW, any first aider learns that the “mechanism of injury” is an important part of decision making during first aid and possible evac. In this case the guy fell off a fricking cliff. That’s all I needed to hear to switch me to total first-aider rescue organizer mode.


  37. Matt Kinney December 5th, 2013 10:11 am

    Did he fall off the cliff or ski off? He skied off as I read it. I recommend, no matter how good a skier you are, that hucking in the BC miles from no where is risky, more so in dicey, flat light conditions while billy-goating in unfamiliar terrain. Glad Coop is OK and he had some good people to help. Any of us can get injured in various ways. No reason to suffer more or complicate things to total chaos, thus the heli assist seemed prudent.

  38. Joel December 5th, 2013 1:11 pm

    I wouldn’t call dropping a 20 footer “hucking”. I do it all the time in the backcountry. And this place is not miles away from no where, it’s a 15 min normal ski out to the parking lot.

    But you should not expect to call in a ski patrol, even if you’re that close to the highway. There are not ski patrols in the backcountry.

    Roger’s Pass altogether is getting weird. Some people are skiing there like it’s the slack country… updating Facebook and blogs right from the slopes because they have cell service. This cell service is making some people think they are in the slack country because help is only a phone call away. Sorry about this rant, but this trend is no good.

    I hope this blog post won’t reinforce what is happening and make some people think: I can get hurt in Roger’s Pass and call a helicopter on my cell for free!

  39. Lou Dawson December 5th, 2013 2:38 pm

    Joel, we’re seeing what you’re seeing, nearly everywhere. Sharing a trip report with some information isn’t going to make it worse. If anything, some people will read it and get the message to be more cautious, while others will indeed see that the place has cell coverage, both trends probably cancel each other out. Me, I had a satphone up there (in fact, I had two of them due to testing), so cell coverage had nothing to do with our actions regarding the injury.

  40. SteveG December 5th, 2013 3:07 pm

    Hucking is on my bucket list but here is my definition.

    Hucking = Catching some air and skiing away

    Falling off a cliff = Punching yourself in the face with your knees while trying to huck.

  41. Lou Dawson December 5th, 2013 4:18 pm

    Steve, that’s about right, except Coop wasn’t trying to huck, he went over the cliff by accident. Lou

  42. Sharon December 5th, 2013 4:34 pm

    Regardless of where you are in the Backcountry, skiing,hiking whatever. It will take rescue at least an hour and a half or longer to get you out if you can’t get out yourself.

    Having the necessary communication devices and gear to self evac, or spend an unintended night is the least you should have if you’re heading out anywhere.

    You should not expect rescue to come when you call…weather and location will dictate that.

    I am concerned with the younger riskier skiers and riders going out that they are not assessing their terrain before committing to it.

    Even slackcountry should be respected and quick rescue not expected.

  43. Matt Kinney December 5th, 2013 6:12 pm

    BTW Louis…good on you for having a headlamp.

  44. SteveG December 5th, 2013 6:29 pm

    @ Lou – I knew that. Someday I will learn to communicate using the internet. I am strongly in the “accidents happen” camp. In the not so distant future we will have mountain rescue by drone and a ski buddy droid to scout the lines for us.

  45. Gregg Cronn December 6th, 2013 8:01 am

    I am not a local but I have been skiing in that valley since the ’80’s. Skiing out the valley in early season is far different then winter conditions with a fat snowpack in the creek bottom. There are a couple of significant detours up on to the summer trail and the downsides are quite the challenge. If I had an injured person who could climb back to the hut that is where I would have gone.

    Rogers Pass is an unbelievable great place for backcountry skiing. Fifteen years ago the locals were complaining about the euros showing up and moguls at Bruins Pass. Now slackers are ruining the backcountry. However, you can still find lots of places to get away from the crowds and I suspect it will remain true for a long time.

  46. James B December 8th, 2013 9:43 am

    Let he/she who has never made a decision in the backcountry which, in retrospect, seems less than ideal, cast the first stone.

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