VANCOUVER -- With public health orders forcing Lower Mainland residents to stay close to home, 2020 has been a busy year for North Shore Rescue.

“We’re one call away from a record year,” said team leader Mike Danks. "We’re hoping it stays quiet and we don’t break that record."

But the South Coast saw its first major snowfall of the year on Monday, and Danks noted that's the kind of weather that "usually influences a lot of people getting up to the mountains."

The snow delivered fresh powder to the North Shore, where local ski hills have been open and operating with strict COVID-19 plans in place. Search and rescue crews urged anyone heading to a local mountain to "please stay in bounds."

And for those going into the backcountry, Danks stressed the need for avalanche safety equipment.

AdventureSmart lists the “three Ts” as musts when venturing into unmarked territory: trip plan, train and take the essentials. 

“Being aware of what you’re capable of in this terrain during the winter, during these conditions, during the pandemic is a responsibility we need to take individually and as a group," said execuitve director Sandra Riches.

The backcountry conditions are quite challenging right now, so Riches is asking those interested to always think ahead - and take an avalanche safety course.

North Shore Rescue, like most SAR teams, has had to implement its own pandemic protocols for each call, which includes outfitting team members with personal protective equipment.

“We are OK for PPE,” said Danks. "We have been really strategic for how we use it. We’re reducing the amount of people we have going on calls.”

SAR teams will always respond if you get into trouble, free of charge, but after a very busy year, Danks does have one request: “Please don’t go out and need rescue. Give all the volunteers a nice Christmas break.”