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Know before you sno-go: Avalanche awareness and rescue skills should be practiced regularly

Posted at 4:57 PM, Feb 05, 2024

HANSEN, Idaho — The Snowmobile Program from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation hosts avalanche awareness and rescue classes throughout the winter. With most of the state under high avalanche warnings, there has never been a better time to brush up on skills that could save a life in the backcountry.

  • About 20 people attended a field class in the South Hills on Saturday, Feb. 3 to refresh avalanche safety skills.
  • Working as teams, the class practiced using transceivers, snow probes, and shovels to locate and uncover simulated avalanche victims.
  • IDPR hosts these classes every weekend around Idaho in January and February. The classes (as well as grooming of snowmobile trails) are made possible by funds from snowmobile registration fees.

(Below is the transcript from the broadcast story)

Jerome resident Jon Higley tries to take his boys out into the snow a couple of times a month in the winter.

That's why they made sure to attend an avalanche awareness and safety class to practice rescue skills, should they ever need them.

"Just in case something does happen,” Higley said, “We try and have all the right gear but just you need to know how to use it if you need it."

Idaho averages between 4 and 8 avalanche fatalities every year.

Rich Gummersall works for the Idaho Department of Parks and Rec’s Off-Road Vehicle Education Program. According to Rich, in 20 of the last 26 years, there has been a motorized avalanche fatality.

"Our goal through Idaho Parks and Recreation is to increase awareness, so our motorized recreationists understand the hazard and then can deal with the incident once that occurs," Gummersall told Idaho News 6.

The field class focused on three key pieces of equipment every backcountry traveler should have.

"The bare minimum they need to have a transceiver probe and a shovel. All three need to be on their body," Gummersall said,

"After we understand a little bit about transceivers yeah, they're going to do a little bit of digging misery,” Gummersall said. “Simulating digging into avalanche debris by using the snowbanks here in the parking lot."

It's hard work.

"Right now most of our state is under an avalanche warning which is high avalanche danger that means high avalanche,” Gummersall said. “Danger on slopes above 30° that's primary avalanche terrain.

“So yeah, you can travel around the backcountry, making good travel decisions if you understand how to recognize the hazard," Gummersall said,