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'In panic mode now': How a Quebec snowboarder survived six nights in BC. desert

The uncontrollable vibration began with his hands, stretching his arms and then to his feet.

Cocooning in a makeshift snow cave, Stéphane Boisvert had been stranded in a merciless wilderness near the city of Golden in the southern part of BC for maybe four or five days – all a bit hazy at that time. All he can do is focus on his breathing.

After losing snowboarding in the interior of the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort on January 29, 2017, a 35-year-old young man from Victoriaville, Que., Decided to follow a small river downstream, unaware that he was taking him away from civilization. He was immediately surrounded by nothing but tree fortifications – and suffocating silence.

The question swirled in his head: could he teach physically without toes? Why is he still single? Are those hermit crabs crawling in protection?

"The mental part is the most difficult," he recalls.

Search and rescue teams found Boisvert on the seventh day. But that was only the beginning of a physically tiring journey that made him lose the right leg and left leg due to severe frostbite.

After rejecting an interview request from the National Post soon after, Boisvert, now 38, recently reached out to say he was ready to share his story, including videos he had never seen that he had recorded during his trials.

He hopes others can learn from his experience – "obviously I made a few mistakes," he said – and took inspiration from his recovery.

"Nothing happened. I want it to have a purpose. "

It did not happen. I want to have a goal


The search for sensation is in DNA Boisvert.

He has jumped bungee, jumped out of the plane, and met a shark while diving.

"I like to live on the edge," he said.

In early 2017, Boisvert turned its attention to the Kicking Horse resort, sometimes nicknamed "the capital of champagne powder," near the BC-Alberta border.

The plan is to snowboard all day Sunday, spend the night with friends in Banff, and then snowboard again on Monday. But he did not give them the right itinerary.

The snow conditions on Sunday were not good, so when he reached the top of the mountain he looked down at the ropes that marked the boundary between the resort and the interior in search of better powder.

The boundary is clearly marked with yellow signs warning guests that they must be trained and equipped for "self-rescue."

"Enter at your own risk!"

Boisvert hesitated for a moment, waiting to see if anything appeared. That's when he saw what looked like a "new track" snowboard player.

"I'm like," Okay, I'm fine. Someone is going there. "So I followed."

A sign that shows the ski limit at the top of the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.

Courtesy of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

That's not the smoothest. Whoever is in front of him weaves in and out of the tree. Halfway through, Boisvert stopped for lunch – a packet of tuna and apples – and pondered whether he made the right decision.

He continued walking.

When he reached Canyon Creek at the bottom of the valley, he followed a series of footprints – until they disappeared.

"I'm a little scared."

Those familiar with the area know the only way out is to climb back – a lung-burning exercise known as boot packing which can take hours.

Boisvert tries this but gets tired quickly, so he decides to follow the meandering creek, believing that it will cut off the road.

Will not.

When stranded in the wilderness, it is generally recommended that you stay quiet and wait for help, said Gino Ferri, a survival expert in Ontario.

"For every hour you roam, you double the search area," he said.

In this situation, it is best to eat all your food – build up your fat reserves – and squat in "semi-hibernation mode."

When the Boisvert trudged along the river, he blew his whistle. He also periodically carved the word "HELP" in the snow.

New signs along Canyon Creek now tell people not to follow them if they get lost. Mini shelters (not pictured) have also been installed near rivers in the event of an emergency.

Photo leaflets

At 4:20 noon, he took the first of four video logs in his camera.

"Yo, hello to all," he said in French, a trace of courage in his voice.

"I've been walking through the forest for about three and a half hours. There are no landmarks. I haven't seen anything yet. "

He boasted how "proud" British adventurer Bear Grylls, the host of the popular TV series Man vs. Wild, would "because the solution I found was to follow the running water."

About 20 minutes later, he pressed the note again. His breathing is heavier.

"Note to self: never, never, never go inland alone," he said.

Frustration grows. He said his feet were on fire and he condemned the "long" flow. Round and round with his camera, he complained about static scenes.

"Only trees, only trees, only trees."

At least there is a lot of water.

"Pure and natural," he said.

Night arrives quickly. Boisvert dug a hole into a snowbank for shelter. He cut branches to strengthen the cave and spread to the floor to make mattresses.

When he recorded his third video, his shadow was barely visible against the darkness.

"I'm really in panic mode now," he said. "I have nothing to make a fire."

He exhaled slowly.

"I hope I will be safe."

Since the difficult times Stephane Boisvert has given motivational lectures to business groups, hockey players, and students.

Christinne Muschi / National Post

Boisvert previously stumbled into the river and his right foot was wet. So that night, he threw away his boots and socks and wrapped his bare feet in snow pants.

The temperature dropped below minus-20. He thinks he slept 30 or 40 minutes.

At one point, Boisvert was awakened by the sound of "explosion". Earlier in the day, he saw a trail of wildlife. Could that be a bear? Or bobcat?

"I just screamed at the top of my lungs."

When he came out of the shelter in the morning, he realized it might just be a big pile of snow falling from a tree.

At that time, bears rarely hibernated and sightings of cougar, lynx, wolves and coyotes were rare, said Rob Hart, a member of the Golden and District Search and Rescue team. The more common are rabbits and pine martens.

"I would imagine that if someone got lost in an unknown environment, all traces might seem like they were left behind by a large animal that was hungry in prey."

I hope I will be safe


The rescue team gathers several people from Canyon Creek every winter. Most stray people come from outside the province and are "totally unprepared" for the interior, said team manager Kyle Hale.

There is a tendency for visitors to turn to "holiday brains," added Lisa Roddick, another team member.

Members of the Golden and District Search and Rescue team inside the Stephane Boisvert snow shelter.


Most of those rescued from the valley were smooth and without major injuries, but not everyone was so lucky.

In February 2009, Gilles Blackburn and Marie-Josee Fortin, a husband and wife from Quebec, went down to Canyon Creek and tried to climb by following the upstream river.

All they have is two granola sticks.

Fortin died of hypothermia on the seventh day. Blackburn was saved on the ninth.

Later it was revealed that the couple had left S.O. signal in the snow, which someone has seen and reported. But notifications don't trigger direct searches.

Blackburn filed a negligence suit that reads like "a bruised accusation for the inability to search and rescue," Explore Magazine later reported.

Search and rescue RCMP and Gold completed out of court.

Wearing a new pair of socks, Boisvert continued downstream on Day 2 and recorded one more video before the battery died. His mood has deteriorated.

"Hope this damn river opens somewhere," he said. "Because now I've arrived here."

Boisvert said his family later learned that a resort employee saw his car in the parking lot the night before. But that did not trigger a call to the authorities.

Resort manager Mike Rubenstein was unable to notify the Post when the vehicle was first seen. He did say that because parking was abundant from guests at the hotel, the resort's practice was "to wait a few days before reporting overnight vehicles to the RCMP (so as not to overwhelm the RCMP)."

Boisvert's friends in Banff, meanwhile, only assumed that he changed plans when he failed to appear. He said he had no grudges against them.

"I don't want to put oil on the fire."

On the second day, Boisvert made sure to give himself enough time to build a shelter.

Ferri said once you have perforated the entrance, the key to staying warm is to make a high sleeping platform inside and to make sure the entrance faces away from the wind. It is also important to keep clothes dry and work slowly to minimize sweating.

Boisvert hopes he knows this. The second night was windier and cooler than the first.

Plus, he only ate apples that day. And when he bites chocolate, he can't help it.

"His enthusiasm dropped," he said.

Quebec physics teacher, Stephane Boisvert, reading in his home in Victoriaville, Quebec, 5 November 2019.

Christinne Muschi / National Post

On Day 3, Boisvert stumbled into the river again during the climb – both feet were soaking wet.

That's when he decided to stop and build a permanent residence. He is now 8.5 kilometers from the resort.

He only has a granola bar and the rest of the chocolate. But he was not overly concerned, reminding himself that people could generally survive three days without water, three weeks without food – "rule of threes."

For the most part, Boisvert remains in the cave in a fetal position. When he stepped out, it felt like he was walking in stiff ski boots.

"I started thinking about the possibility that I would lose my toe," he said.

However, the most frightening moment is when his body suddenly starts convulsing.

"I lost control of my body," he said. "My hands trembled, then my whole arm trembled, then after that, the other arm began to tremble. Then, my legs began to tremble. After two or three minutes, my whole body began to shake. … I really felt that it would not stop . "

The vibration finally subsided when he focused his breathing and mind, just as he was taught in yoga.

Boredom is another mortal enemy.

He woke up in the dark before dawn and told himself that day would come.

Quebec physics teacher, Stephane Boisvert, poses at his home in Victoriaville, Quebec, 5 November 2019.

Christinne Muschi / National Post

"Every time, it's longer than I thought," he said.

One time, he heard a scratch around his bag. Maybe he was hallucinating, but he was sure he was staring at the hermit crab.

"I thought I was talking to him," he said. "Are you there? Where are you? Don't be that close."

Faith is often quoted by survivors of near death experiences in the wilderness.

That's what happened in 2011 when Rita Chretien, from Penticton, BC, was found to survive after spending 49 days in the Nevada desert. The van that she and her husband, Albert, had driven was stuck in the mud. He died after going to seek help.

Chretien, then 56, who survived melted snow, candy and fish oil tablets, later told the interviewer that he spent time writing in his diary, taking short walks and reading the Bible.

When hunger is increasing, he pretends to have a plate of food in his hand. "I held it out and asked God to bless it. … and hunger is gone. "

Boisverts are not religious but believe in "the power of the mind."

Frederic Dion, a motivational speaker and survival expert from Quebec, made headlines several years ago when he was dropped from a helicopter into the Yukon wilderness and had to find a way back to civilization.

His teachings emphasize "positive psychology" and he states that "the greatest obstacle to meeting tomorrow's challenges is our doubts today."

"I completely agree," Boisvert said.

Lying in his residence Boisvert thought of activities he could do without his toes. One time, he imagined himself kite surfing, the wind on his back.

"I imagine myself doing sports, a kind of good mind."

His mind also floated to his relationship.

"I wonder why many of my relationships don't work. I was single at the time, "he said.

"And my friends – I say to myself, if I can get out, I want to change, more there for my friends – more present – call them more often."

Stephane Boisvert, who survived six nights / seven days in the wilderness of BC after losing snow skating in the interior of the Kicking Horse resort in BC.

On morning 7, Boisvert heard a helicopter approaching.

The day before, the same resort employee who had previously seen his vehicle noticing that it was not moving, triggered calls to the authorities, according to Boisvert's understanding of various events. Asked if this was the case, the resort would only notify the Post, "protocol followed."

The search and rescue team departed as soon as it was noon. Remembering the history of people who got lost in Canyon Creek, they headed there first.

It didn't take long before they saw Boisvert's footsteps.

Boisvert pushed out the shelter wall and waved his hand. Overcoming emotions, he knelt down.

"I'm starting to cry."

The helicopter landed about 200 meters away. Roddick and Hart jumped out and jumped on Boisvert.

He eagerly accepted their offer of hot chocolate.

"That's perfect. I am a hot chocolate man, not a coffee man. "

In the ambulance, paramedics took off their shoes. Her exposed legs looked like blocks of ice.

Then, at the burn unit at Foothills Medical Center in Calgary, a plastic surgeon told him that he might lose more than his toe.

"That was a big surprise for me," he said. "I'm a soccer player."

A psychologist helps put things in perspective.

"I remember him saying to me:‘ You lived 35 years with that leg. They bring you lots of good things, lots of fun, they help you travel, help you play (soccer) at a higher level. Be grateful for what it brings to you. "

His feet were swollen and blistered. Eventually the toes turn black, as happens when the tissue dies.

After 10 days, he was transferred to a hospital in Quebec City where he spent the next four months waiting to find out the extent of tissue damage, consulting the amputee and reviewing the options with the surgeon.

Everyone is very helpful and suddenly you are back alone. That is a big change

In the end, they amputated his right leg just below the knee. He also lost the toes on his left leg and had to have a graft that moved the skin from his left thigh to patch a hole in the arch of his left leg.

Boisvert spent another five months in rehabilitation. Specialists help him regain strength and balance and teach him how to navigate stairs and uneven surfaces.

However, when he gets home, basic tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, take a very long time to complete. He also injured his left leg back when he slipped in the bathtub.

"Everyone was very helpful … and suddenly you came back alone. That was a big, big change."

Gradually, he regained his independence and began to take on new sports, as he had imagined, including tennis, mountain biking, golf and kayaking.

The local community also raised $ 20,000 to help with expenses, including renovations to his house (he had to open the door to allow wheelchair access).

Inspired by the picture of him seeing a phoenix rise from the ashes in the hospital, Boisvert had a phoenix tattoo on his left calf last year. He also took a dog from a rescue shelter named Lola.

Quebec physics teacher, Stephane Boisvert rides his bicycle in Victoriaville, Quebec, 5 November 2019.

Christinne Muschi / National Post

"He actually helped me a lot mentally. … I consider it almost like a watch dog. "

This year he returned to teach physics at a local high school. He also began giving motivational lectures to business groups, entrepreneurs, young hockey players and students – talks that touch on perseverance, overcome doubts and achieve "great things even after the darkest hours."

Boisvert was very pleased to learn recently that the Golden search and rescue team had built a small shelter along Canyon Creek that was equipped with S.O.S. flare. They also put up signs along the river that told people who were lost not to go with the flow.

"Very pleased that everything is improving," he said. "No matter what, there will be people who push the limits and will make mistakes."

Speaking of pushing the limits, adrenaline junkies tried skiing for the first time last winter. He said that was the most fun he had had since his failure in SM.

Next year, he wants to try surfing.

With translations from Jacob Dubé

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