UPDATE: Both sledders were found safely by the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 23.
When Colin Jalbert bought a used snowmobile last week, the original owner threw in a shovel.
Just a few days later, the Prince George resident was desperately using that shovel to dig out his sled on Yanks Peak near Wells.
Jalbert was among a group of 20 riders from Prince George who arrived at the mountain around 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 22. When they reached the top of the mountain, Jalbert lost control of his sled and was separated from the group. Another member of the group, Mike Harbak, was also separated and remains missing. Wells RCMP, Prince George, Quesnel and Williams Lake Search and Rescue crews and the Wells Snowmobile Club are still searching for Harbak today.
“I just went for a little rip, hit a drift and my handlebars were loose so when I landed I couldn’t hold my line and ended up having to follow another trail that led into the trees,” said Jalbert, who added it was his first time mountain riding. “As a new mountain rider, I got way in over my head. It bottle-necked uphill between some tree, I hesitated for a second and got stuck in a really s***** spot.”
Jalbert could hear his group’s sleds in the distance, but terrifyingly, they couldn’t hear his screaming or whistles. He had a beacon, avalanche pack, and some basic survival gear, but wishes he had brought a radio.
“I could hear them going by in the distance but they couldn’t hear me over the sleds,” he said. “I used my whistle and screamed but nothing [happened] so I just kept digging. I was determined to get the hell outta there.”
Although Jalbert had spent a lot of time riding before, it was always on groomed trails and rivers in Ontario. He wasn’t prepared for getting buried in five feet of snow.
“I literally had to dig all around my sled to get it turned around and make a path to get out and back on top of the snow and by then it was 4 p.m.,” he said. “I shovelled for I think four to five hours non-stop. Worse come to worst I was going to make a shelter and start a fire.”
After digging a 100-square-foot hole to extract the snowmobile, an exhausted Jalbert made the trek back to his truck.
“It was getting dark and starting to snow. Not gonna lie, I was scared and I was soaked from sweating,” he said. “I feel horrible for leaving someone out there but with my level of experience there would have been both of us stuck out there.”
Jalbert said it was a tough way to learn that snowmobiling in the mountains takes different skills than normal riding and mastering slopes and terrain can be tricky.
“Mountain riding isn’t as easy as it looks and I got a reality check really quickly on how fast things can go sideways. [It’s] not to be taken lightly,” he said. “I could be the one still out there.”
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