A snowboarder survived two nights in heavy snow this weekend after he got lost in the backcountry north of the Mt. Baker Ski Area.
Oliver Smith, 21, of Edmonds, and a friend were snowboarding near the northern boundary of the ski area around 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 29.
They got separated when Smith went down an out-of-bounds slope, said Chief Criminal Deputy Doug Chadwick of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.
Smith got lost and tried hiking downhill toward a creek, in search of a trail or people. He found neither. His partner returned to the parking lot and kept tabs on the missing skier’s car, but over the next few hours Smith didn’t return.
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Search and rescue crews were called out to look for him around 4:30 p.m., Chadwick said. The team searched until late Friday but had to stop around 11 p.m. due to darkness and roughly 14 inches of overnight snowfall.
At night Smith built makeshift shelters from tree branches and his snowboard. He had no food and kept hydrated by drinking drainage water, Chadwick said. He did not bring a phone.
All day Saturday ski patrol and county search crews scoured the area but found no sign of Smith. That day another 7 inches of fresh snow fell at the ski area.
“It really started to get to me the second night when it was getting dark out,” he told the Seattle-based TV station. “At that point I was like, man, I don’t even know where I am, I don’t know if anyone’s going to find me or anything.”
Then, around 10 a.m. on Sunday, searchers in the glacial valley of White Salmon Creek found footprints in the snow. They followed those for about a half hour until they found Smith, wet, cold, with signs of hypothermia — but alive.
Considering what he’d been through, Smith was in fair shape, with no serious injuries.
One big lesson for other skiers and snowboards is stay in bounds, Chadwick said. The other is that, if you do leave the boundaries, be prepared, Chadwick said. That means bringing a phone, a locator beacon or some way to communicate in case something goes wrong. Also, proper clothing, food and water are critical: Another night in the snow could have easily been deadly for Smith.
“He’s a very fortunate young man,” Chadwick said.