Despite quiet season, SAR crews stay prepared

Even though they've only had two calls this season, Search & Rescue stays busy with training exercises to stay ready for emergencies.

South Columbia Search and Rescue (SCSAR) hasn’t been very busy yet this winter season, but that doesn’t mean the work stops.

Mike Hudson, president of the volunteer rescue group, says SCSAR has only been called out twice this winter.

“We did that search and rescue up at Whitewater and then we did another one on Jan. 9 for two lost snowmobilers up in the Redfish area, but that is it so far,” he said. “Two of our people went up (to Redfish) as sledders and they were out for a total of 11 hours from the call to the time it was all done.”

The two snowmobilers had gotten their sleds stuck in a drainage ditch and were found with no injuries.

In 2014, the SCSAR spent more time in the back country, looking for lost skiers and outdoor enthusiasts.

“Last year was a bit of an exception because of the new run at Red Mountain,” he said. “I think that caused a lot of confusion. The skiers up there have a pretty good handle on where the run is now, but it was definitely part of the problem up there last year.”

Hudson says there is no standard number of calls each winter.

“It is still pretty early and the snow was late this year,” he said. “It varies from year to year. It seems to depend on where people are vacationing or choose to spend their time. There isn’t a formula for it. It also depends on the people who are going out into the back country, how prepared they are and how experienced they are.”

Even though there hasn’t been frequent calls, SCSAR is staying vigilant with its training in case more calls come in as the winter goes on.

Currently, the team has members up at the Kokanee Glacier practicing different scenarios that could present in their work and even then, volunteers don’t know what to expect.

“They have gone up there and are doing seven days of training: lots of snowshoeing, skiing, skinning, and probe and shovel,” said Hudson. “Last year on the training trip, we had one of our members, she fell and hurt her ankle, and they had to hump her out. It wasn’t part of the planned training, but it was great practice for them.”

The SCSAR is also sending members up to Red Mountain on Jan. 24 to keep up-to-date on how to handle avalanches.

“We are going to be do some stuff with cold survival, digging out snow shelters, snowmobiles towing skiers and working on medical scenarios,” he said.

“We have a winter response speciality team with skiers and sledders and as soon as this time of year comes around, the group leader starts up the training like crazy. The more we can include in each scenario, the better.”

Avalanche Awareness Day isn’t just for SAR volunteers. The all-day event is open to anyone interested in learning about survival techniques in avalanches and ways to prevent a situation from worsening.

Hudson says the more prepared someone is, the less likely his volunteers will be called to help with a search and rescue.

“The key phrase is, be prepared,” he said. “Pre-trip planning is number one and having a contact person who knows when you are leaving and when you are coming back.”

Hudson says the same rules apply whether or not someone is heading out alone or in a group.

“If you are going to go out by yourself or even in a pair, having a beacon is definitely essential. Even if you get lost and you are not in an avalanche, we can go up there and find you,” he said. “It makes things much faster.”

The Avalanche Awareness Day begins at 10 a.m. at Red Mountain and runs until 3 p.m. The planned events include guest speakers, information sessions, practical scenarios, transceiver use practice and games with prizes.