Central Oregon Daily▶️ The Great Outdoors: Avalanche safety, saving a buried rider

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Avalanche safety, saving a buried rider

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Avalanche safety, saving a buried rider

This week on The Great Outdoors, preparing snowmobilers for the worst-case scenario: They trigger an avalanche, and a rider gets buried.

All backcountry travelers need to understand the risks of avalanches and what to do if somebody gets buried in one.

Snowmobilers in particular, who can cover so much terrain with the twist of a throttle, need to be aware and prepared.

“You never know when you are going to ride up on something that’s occurred. Avalanches can happen anywhere there’s a slope between 35 and 45 degrees. If you ride in this area there’s plenty of those around,” said Chuck Ehlert, an avalanche rescue instructor. “If you ride on the trails, you may see something, or somebody may be asked to help. If you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you want to have the skills and equipment to help them out.”

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I tagged along with the Oregon State Snowmobile Association on a motorized avalanche training course in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

Two people died here in the past decade after being caught in avalanches they triggered.

One individual was snowboarding. The other was riding a snowmobile.

“The most common factor in snowmobile in avalanche deaths in the United States in the last six years is the victim had never taken an on-snow avalanche class. It’s a rather telling statistic. Education makes a huge difference,” said Mike Duffy, an avalanche rescue instructor with Avalanche1.com.

Avalanche training begins with awareness.

Where are avalanches possible?

What are snowpack conditions?

How can weekend warriors learn and prepare?

“I’ve been involved in quite a few fatalities, body recoveries by mountain rescue teams. By the time we get there, it’s too late,” Duffy said. “The best chance of survival is with the members of your group. If they are trained…by the time mountain rescue gets there, it’s too late. If you get buried, and your riding partners are trained, that’s your best chance of survival. Having a shovel, probe, transceiver and the training makes all the difference.”

The only way to know how to use avalanche rescue equipment is to practice.

Avalanche education courses led by instructors with years of experience shorten the learning curve.

Avalanche transceivers are most effective in the hands of people who understand how they work and can quickly locate someone wearing a beacon buried in the snow.

Digging somebody out of the snow before they suffocate or die from their injuries is a terrifying task to contemplate. It might be somebody you know.

Could you keep your cool and keep working?

What do you do once somebody is uncovered?

How do you treat them?

How do you transport them?

“Everybody who owns a transceiver thinks they can pull off a rescue,” Duffy said. “It takes about 45 minutes to get people halfway quick. It takes a full day course to get proficient. It’s a disposable skill too. You need to practice. Practice as much as you can.”

About 45 people have taken motorized avalanche rescue training courses in the past two years through the La Pine Lodgepole Dodgers snowmobile club and the Oregon State Snowmobile Association.

That’s a tiny fraction of the hundreds of people who go snowmobiling in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument every winter weekend.

“The bottom line is if you stay off that 30- to 45-degree slope you’ll be in a good position to be safe. If you stay on the trails, we keep them clear up here, most of them are outside those risk areas. That’s the best thing. Stay on the trails. Stay away from those slopes that are greater than 30 degrees,” Ehlert said.

And for those folks who insist on those thrill-seeking ascents and descents.

“Get the training. That’s the only thing they can do. Get the equipment. It’s never perfect. You need to be ready for the unexpected,” Ehlert said.

Visit the American Avalanche Association, Avalanche.org for a list of avalanche safety courses.

The Central Oregon Avalanche Center is our local resource.

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