Bolstering its mountain bike resources could literally be a life saver for members of Penticton Search and Rescue (PENSAR).
As the popularity of back-country recreation increases, so too does the need for immediate response in the event of an accident or missing person.
In addition to three, new top-end bicycles, the organization also obtained a variety of other related equipment for use with the bikes, including lights and transportation gear.
This was made possible through a $4,200 grant from the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan/Similkameen and donations from local businesses, including Freedom the Bike Shop, The Bike Barn and Swagman Racks.
“We’ve been working on this for over a year now and it will really make a difference in our ability to do our job much more effectively,” said Dale Jorgensen, search manager for the volunteer-response agency.
“There is an increasing number of people who ride just here because of the proximity of trails to Penticton and obviously the more you use them, the greater the chance that something can happen.
Even if the people are acting in a very responsible manner, accidents still happen.”
So far this year there has only been one serious incident locally, which happened in mid-June on a section of the popular Three Blind Mice trail known as Gap Jump.
The experienced rider was returning from a three-hour morning ride when the crash occurred.
In that case 18 members of PENSAR, along with members of the B.C. Ambulance Service and Penticton Fire Rescue, responded.
In 2012 there were two fatal accidents on the same trail system which were part of the motivating factors in the decision by the local search and rescue organization to upgrade its abilities in responding on bikes.
Part of the improvements include a new coverage plan for the Three Blind Mice region just west of Naramata Road, which covers over 20-square kilometres, with more than 100-km of trails.
Helicopter landing zones, staging areas and access routes have been mapped out to ensure rapid response in emergencies.
PENSAR also has pre-authorization for helicopter assets in the region including the use of long-line rescue, often required to remove critically-injured patients from hard-to-reach sites.
“We’ve put a lot of time in going out there and laying down track and finding out where exactly there would be a suitable location if we needed to land a helicopter in the area,” said the search manager.
“That’s always a big issue just because of accessibility. It’s so important to get somebody out of there in a timely fashion.
“It’s also different because these trails are not like ones used by ATV’s or old logging road, they’re narrow so you can’t get in there with a side-by-side or all terrain vehicle and that’s where the bikes come in handy.
“You can cover a lot of territory in a short period of time on two wheels.”
He added the bicycles are also much quieter, so if somebody is calling for help or making other noises, they are much more likely to be heard by searchers.
“They may have been there for some time or if it’s later in the day and there may not be anybody else (recreational riders) coming through, so it is critical to find them.”
Mountain biking, he added, is like other sports such as skiing, where there is a certain amount of risk involved, all it takes is a slight error in judgement that can result in a serious problems.
PENSAR will continue to add equipment and do further training of its mountain biking team in the coming months according to the search manager.