The Cost of Freedom

bradhBy Brad Hodge
Published: Sept 9, 2015


IN A WAY I get extreme sportspeople. And I’d be the first to admit, I envy them a little.  It takes a lot of guts to put one’s own life and limb on the line: to roar down a twisty mountain trail on two wheels and a smattering of carbon fiber, or base jumping off a mountain. And I can totally understand the appeal of taking my skis to untapped, virgin snow.  One only gets one life (that we know of), and while it’s easy to make the argument that one should not indulge in risk in order to preserve it as long as possible, it’s also easy to make the argument that one shouldn’t forgo opportunities to live it to the fullest. I get that. And when I watch people engage in risky activities, there is a little part of me that is jealous. A part of me that can imagine that fresh powder crinkling under my skis, or the rush of tiptoeing across a nylon rope with nothing beneath me but air. There is definitely a romantic appeal to it. And anyway, it’s one’s own body, right?
The problem, though, is found in the old saying: no man (or woman) is an island. No matter what happens to you, there is always an impact upon others, and often with high financial costs. Living in Squamish, we bear regular witness to brushes (or collisions) with death: just this July a resident lost his life in a ‘speed-flying’ attempt from the Stawamus Chief. Losses like that hit hard. Where a rescue is required, the lives of the rescuers are also put at risk.

According to a recent Macleans article, a single helicopter rescue mission can reach up to $100,000. And BC mounts far more rescues per capita than other Canadian jurisdictions: according to the BC Search and Rescue association, 1,338 search and rescue operations were conducted in our province, out of a total of 1,933 nationally in 2011, although not all of those obviously are for risky sports enthusiasts. There is also the cost of healthcare for the injured which can be many thousands more depending on injuries. And of course, everyone alive is someone’s friend, son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother. For a single risky sports enthusiast, there can be dozens of people who have to bear the burdens of serious injury or loss. No amount of money can compensates for that.
So what is the answer? How do we appropriately give a nod to freedom while being fair to those how have to also bear the burden of mishaps? Banning inherently risky activities sounds smart, until you consider the reverse incentives they create by making an activity taboo. Some have suggested (and tried) billing the ‘victim’ for the cost of their rescue. In 2009, Grouse Mountain did just that to a trio of skiers and a snowboarder, handing them a $10,000 bill to rescue them after they went out of bounds. But generally, rescue groups frown on such ideas. They worry that fines or penalties encourage the victim to avoid calling for help, and could cause other, less-qualified people such as relatives to endanger themselves trying to help. Perhaps the best idea is insurance: either requiring it or providing it for adventurers, funded either through licences, the adventurers themselves or the public at large. Probably the best tool though is education: a thorough understanding of the risks of a particular sport, coupled with survival strategies for extreme situations doubtless would be an immense help, and maybe give all but the most dedicated (and experienced) some useful, sober second thoughts.
Brad Hodge is a former Council candidate and local IT expert