The next time you're lost on a snowy mountain, help might come from Ray Howard and a team from the Juneau Snowmobile Club.
Howard, 42, leads the 90-member club and is part of a team of six riders who stay on call for rescue work. It's a cold duty that draws on avalanche training, mastery of beacons and probes, and familiarity with the machines and the terrain.
Howard is quick to credit the volunteers, such as a father-and-son team that helped the Alaska State Troopers find a 14-year-old girl Thursday in West Juneau. He said Robby and Corey Harris responded when troopers called for assistance about 12 hours after the girl went on a hike with friends on the Dan Moller Trail.
They raced three miles up the trail in heavy snow and found her at a cabin at 1 a.m. She didn't have gear for an overnight stay, the troopers said.
The club helped with another search-and-rescue mission on Feb. 4, Super Bowl Sunday. A woman became lost while riding on the Spaulding Meadows Trail. She left her snowmobile and tried to walk to shelter, but she went in the wrong direction. Howard and company split up in groups and found her vehicle.
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"From there, we were able to trace her tracks to the end of the riding area," he said. "Then we had to get off our snowmobiles and walk to her. We got her back on her machine and escorted her to the parking lot."
"She was very, very tired," he added. "She was physically exhausted from walking in the snow. Fortunately, we found her in time. Otherwise, she may have ended up spending the night out there, and that would have been pretty bad."
Howard, a married father of two, moved to Juneau from Sitka in 2001 to work for the National Marine Fisheries Service. As president of the Juneau Snowmobile Club, he aims to preserve trails, increase access, and enhance the sport. Though critics say snowmobiles make too much noise and damage trails, the club members are trying to find additional riding areas and are looking into the possibility of the cruising the outskirts of Eaglecrest Ski Area.
If it works out, Howard will be there on his gray and black 2007 Skidoo Summit.
"The epic day is blue sky, two or three feet of fresh snow, getting out there early and just carving up the powder," he said. "That's really what it is. Getting out there, enjoying the scenery that we have around here, and surprisingly, it's a heck of a workout too."
Ken Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.