VANCOUVER -- So far in 2021, North Shore Rescue volunteers have responded to 46 calls for help. In previous years, that number hasn’t been reached until June.

Last year was also the team's busiest on record with 151 calls, surpassing the 144 calls received in 2018.

NSR team leader Mike Danks said the COVID-19 pandemic is driving the increase in rescues, with residents in the Lower Mainland unable to travel but still urged to get outside.

“People have really recognized that we have a beautiful backyard here on the North Shore and there’s an abundance of trails that are readily accessible,” Danks said. “People are getting out and they’re enjoying them and some of them are very naive to the dangers of the backcountry.”

He said calls range from people simply veering off trails in frontcountry areas, to inexperienced hikers, skiers and snowboarders pushing the boundaries and venturing into more remote parts of the backcountry.

“We’re seeing people getting into areas now that they typically wouldn’t even know about, that’s just because people are trying to enjoy those trails by themselves and the popular trails are so busy,” he said.

Danks said one of the more tragic calls this year was one that ended with the death of a young Toronto woman, Nikki Donnelly. The 21-year-old became lost while snowshoeing solo in Cypress Provincial Park on Jan. 14, and a search team found her the following day in a steep drainage area on the east side of the St. Mark's summit.“We had a really unfortunate call with Niki when she had a tragic fall on St Mark’s - that's a really trying call for everybody,” Danks said. “We had a huge amount of people out and unfortunately no matter all the efforts we put in, she didn’t survive. But for us it’s about closure and bringing her back to her family.”

2020 also saw the release of a documentary featuring the North Shore Rescue team. The five-part series was filmed over the course of a year, with a film crew joining for every single call.

Danks says the series created “a lot of interest” in people wanting to join NSR, but warns there is more to the job than what people see.

“I think it’s really important for people to understand North Shore Rescue is not just about flying helicopters, there’s a ton of work that goes on in the background, and that work's not as glamorous,” he said. “It’s a lot of commitment and you’re doing maintenance work on our equipment to make sure it’s ready to go.”

Given the increased number of call-outs, NSR is currently recruiting for volunteer team members with applications closing March 31. Danks is urging anyone interested in joining to have a “good read” through the criteria on the website.

With COVID-19 restrictions on travel still predicted to be in place for a number of months, NSR is also preparing for a busy summer. Danks is urging people to be educated about trips they may be planning.