There is no time to spare when someone is buried in an avalanche.
People on the scene have about 15 minutes to locate a victim and dig them out of the snow in order to keep them alive.
On Sunday, Jan. 13, members of the Bitterroot Ridgerunners Snowmobile Club will offer a seminar filled with information on how to make those first minutes of an emergency count.
Bob Egusquiza, safety officer for the club, said the focus will not be on the cause of avalanches.
“We’ll talk a little about slabbing and angles; most people will have some idea of how avalanches occur. With the angle of a hill being between 35 and 38 degrees, there’s a narrow range of target angles,” he said. “But we’ll focus on how to use a transceiver or emergency beacon and how to use one as a group or as a single.”
The Transceiver Training two-hour seminar will cover safety equipment, retrieval equipment, life vests and communications. There will be hands-on opportunities to try the equipment under expert guidance.
“Once you’re discovered where the person is you have about 15 minutes to probe and dig the person out,” Egusquiza said. “It’s all very important to do it all in a timely manner because you have a narrow window of time to save someone’s life, if they are buried.”
He said the pressure on the body limits the ability for the chest and lungs to expand and the lack of oxygen causes fatalities.
“It’s not the temperature. Most everyone out in the weather is dressed right,” Egusquiza said. “If it takes hours then the cold can get them.”
Locating and freeing the chest needs to take place in 15 minutes. A backpack with a balloon or a flotation device has also proved to be successful.
“It’s like a life vest that when inflated is up and behind your head. It seems to keep you upright and out of the snow,” Egusquiza said.
He has been riding snowmobiles since the 1980s.
“I’ve progressively learned,” he said. “As machines have gotten more powerful and more traction. I’ve been involved in a couple slides, I won’t call them avalanches, and I know the importance of this equipment. I’ve had a time or two that I had to power may way out of snowballs the size of the cab of the truck.”
Egusquiza said today’s snowmobile riders go deeper in to the back country than they used to 25 years ago.
“We are playing deeper and steeper and we’re trying to stay smart about it and keep out of the potential dangerous stuff as we recognize it,” he said. “Weather changes, terrain, leaning trees, ridges are indicators. Be aware.”
The seminar will focus on the protocols and actions to take if an avalanche takes place. Steps include selecting someone to lead the search, with that person making sure everyone has turned transponders from send to receive, selecting people to search using probes and shovels and working quickly.
“Time is of the essence to save someone,” Egusquiza said.
Wally Deschene, vice president of the Bitterroot Ridgerunners Snowmobile Club, has level-one avalanche certification and will also present.
“Level one is a three-day course from a national avalanche association,” Deschene said. “There are many snowmobilers in the area, but I don’t know how many members the club has. The transceiver is one of the tools we use to rescue in case of avalanche.”
The seminar is open to the public. Skiers, cross country skiers, snowshoe enthusiasts and winter hikers are invited to attend.
“We have radios that mount to a snowmobile and others that are Bluetooth where two or more people can communicate while moving,” Egusquiza said. “We’ll present, then go outside and find a buried transceiver. We’ll make it as realistic as we can for finding, probing and digging.”
Attend the avalanche response training by the Bitterroot Ridgerunners Snowmobile Club at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 13, at the snowmobile groomer shed 660 Grantsdale Road, Hamilton.
Egusquiza said the best way to avoid tragic avalanche accidents is to recognize and avoid dangerous conditions, be prepared for the worst and know how to use your equipment.
“In an emergency, you don’t have time to read the instruction manual for your transceiver,” Egusquiza said. “This exercise will focus on how to use your transceiver to locate victims.”
He recommends that everyone one who owns an avalanche beacon bring it with them to the seminar.
For further information contact Bob Egusquiza at 208-724-6723. Check avalanche conditions and educational opportunities at www.missoulaavalanche.org.