December 18, 2021 brought bitterly cold overnight temperatures to Northern Saskatchewan. When five adult snowmobilers became stranded in a remote area near Clam Lake, approximately 70 kilometres northwest of La Ronge, it was critical to find them and rescue them from the cold, as quickly as possible.
At about 8:30 that morning, La Ronge RCMP received the call that the snowmobilers had become stuck in some muskeg – still unfrozen despite the frigid temperatures – and had to spend the night in the elements. They had winter gear on, some supplies and a fire going – but one of the snowmobilers had become wet from the muskeg and was extremely cold. They had a faint cell signal and were able to ask for help – but then the communications stopped.
Extreme cold means extreme danger
"It was a life-threatening situation," explains Cpl. Shane Marion of the La Ronge RCMP. "The temperatures had dropped to -35 or -40 C. There is real danger in temperatures like that – that kind of exposure to the elements could lead to hypothermia, which can be fatal."
The snowmobilers' family, the Canadian Rangers and La Ronge RCMP officers headed out to the area to find them, towing snowmobiles to use on the trail. They met two of the five snowmobilers at the trailhead – they had travelled out looking for assistance. They were tired, cold but okay and were able to provide the search parties the location and status of the three still stranded on the trail.
Equipment, skills and community partners key to rescue efforts
La Ronge RCMP has one of the largest detachment areas in Saskatchewan. It's big – but also sparsely populated in areas, with limited to no cellular service, and rugged terrain. The detachment is equipped to provide police service wherever it's needed in the area. The detachment ensures its police officers are trained to respond to calls on snowmobiles, ATVs and boats – and that they have the proper gear to wear in severe weather.
But aside from training and gear – there's another important resource the detachment uses during critical situations in remote areas: community knowledge. "It's a big factor in how we police in situations like this," explains Cpl. Marion. "Our police officers may not have the knowledge of local geography like long-time community members do. That's why they are a key asset for us, especially when we're dealing with situations in the bush and on the trails in remote areas."
In this case, the snowmobilers' family immediately travelled to the area to assist, as they have excellent knowledge of the area where their loved ones were stuck, Cpl. Marion explains. The Canadian Rangers, who have both local knowledge and wilderness search-and-rescue training, also came to help.
Snowmobilers located – cold but safe and sound
The family located the three snowmobilers and brought them out to the trailhead, with the assistance of the Canadian Rangers and the RCMP. They then were assessed by EMS. They were reported to be in good health and were cleared to head home.
"We were very happy," Cpl. Marion says. "With those frigid conditions, we knew these people were in danger and time was of the essence. We thank the family and the Canadian Rangers for helping get them back to safety – and warmth – quickly."