by Andru McCracken
You know him as the trail gnome: Randall Pruden is the guy who keeps Valemount’s bike trail network in tip top shape, and in the winter he spends many a day backcountry skiing.
Pruden and a group of friends had just finished a day of skiing above the McKirdy YORA Cabin; it was a bluebird day with temperatures near zero in the alpine.
On the descent, things cooled off to minus 15, but the skiing was fine.
It was a simple mistake; Pruden overshot the end of the run.
“I should have hit the dog tracks or the ski tracks,” he said.
He admits he was skiing terrain that would be way too tight for most skiers, and was well ahead of his group. His enthusiasm for just another turn kept him pointed downhill.
Soon he was in unfamiliar territory.
When he realized his predicament Pruden said he felt momentary panic.
He tried bushwhacking to where he thought he should be. It was the wrong direction.
Pruden often talks about carrying his survival gear and an emergency GPS Spot Beacon unit to notify RCMP and the local Search and Rescue if things go poorly.
If things went bad he had everything he needed to spend the night out: extra clothing, high energy food, two different fire starting devices, a bivy sack, and a space blanket.
But that night the temperature dropped to minus 30 degrees celsius.
“It wouldn’t have been the most pleasant night,” he said with a wide grin.
One item he was missing was his handheld GPS unit, which he’d forgotten to pack. Instead he used Trail Forks a mountain bike trail app on his cell phone to find his way back. It wasn’t ideal. He’d go a short distance, take his phone out and put it back.
Pruden said he’ll make sure the GPS is with him next time.
Meanwhile, Pruden’s experienced group didn’t bail on him, and with sporadic cell service they made contact and kept in touch.
Dave MacDowell is Pruden’s usual ski partner and was part of the group that day.
“We all know Randy is great at assessing situations as they arise. Fortunately we were able to get some communication by text and the odd patchy call,” he said. “I skied back up the out track and gave home lots of shouts and whistles, but those sounds don’t travel far in the bush.”
He said he and another one of their party figured Pruden would pop out of the bush by the Turducken bike trail.
“Ultimately, he did exactly that,” he said.
MacDowell said he knew Pruden would only activate his spot beacon as a last option.
“He would never live it down if he activated the ‘rescue me option.’”
Pruden said that the moral of the story is this: ski tourers should be prepared to spend a night out, and should always pay attention to where they are.