Foley: Avalanche awareness saves lives
December 8, 2015
There have been a number of avalanche awareness presentations in Grand County over the last couple months, all of them well attended. Why do you think the sponsoring organizations take the time and energy to provide this information to the public?
As one of the sponsors of several of the events our goal is to save lives. Public education is one way that we feel that we can make a difference, and statistics indicate that avalanche deaths nationally have decreased due to increased awareness.
There are two avalanche awareness opportunities this week. The first is a two day field session on Dec. 9 and 10 in Second Creek available through the Fraser Valley Recreation District. Participants will stay overnight at the Broome Hut. There is a $50 fee.
The second is free and presented by the Friends of Berthoud Pass (FOBP) at 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Winter Park Pub.
We are going to continue to promote avalanche education programs not only because they work, but because there is an ever changing user base that we feel has a need to be made aware of the life threat that avalanches present.
Any day up on Berthoud Pass or Gravel Mountain or Rollins Pass you can observe people traveling in avalanche terrain without taking the proper precautions, without carrying the proper gear, endangering their lives and the lives of their friends. Sort of like driving without seat belts, or taking a knife to a gunfight.
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There are two types of students. The first type takes the knowledge that they have gained and uses that knowledge to further their goals. A second type of student leaves that knowledge in the classroom, ignoring its value.
Then there are the people who never went to class and have absolutely no clue of how dangerous their path is when it comes to backcountry travel in avalanche terrain.
These last two groups are characterized respectively by two traits, either of which can kill you in the backcountry – stupidity and ignorance.
Avalanche awareness presentations do not teach you how to survive in avalanche terrain. They are meant to be an eye opener and an invitation to become fully knowledgeable and proficient when it comes to avalanche avoidance, safety and companion rescue. These skills require further education, study and, most importantly, experience. Just because you've got some book knowledge and $500 worth of safety gear in your pack doesn't make you invincible.
Getting this advanced knowledge isn't cheap or quick. You can get the knowledge by taking an Avalanche Level 1 course which will cost you $300-$400, or you can learn from a willing companion who already has the knowledge along with some home study. Both methods take a significant, directed time commitment.
One of the key points that we like to drive home is that organized search and rescue groups like GCSAR will most likely not be able to save your life if you are buried in an avalanche. By the time a 911 call is made, our members get geared up and travel to the trailhead and then make their way to the accident site you're looking at least an hour, more likely two hours or more. Chances of surviving a burial of more than 15 minutes are pretty slim so, realistically, your best hope of surviving is companion rescue.
In order to perform companion rescue you have to first gain the knowledge and experience, and then you've got to have the right rescue gear. Beacon, probe and shovel. Each person needs to have rescue gear, anything less is futile.
It's apparent that there is a cost in time, energy and dollars to have the best chance of staying alive during avalanche season. We would like to encourage each person to do the math and compare the cost versus the consequence.
Greg Foley is a member of Grand County Search and Rescue and has been a mountain rescue volunteer for 35 years. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The GCSAR website can be found at grandcountySAR.com or on Facebook/GCSAR.