Avalanche Training

Juneau volunteers practice snow rescue techniques

Posted: Sunday, November 23, 2008

About 50 volunteers from various organizations in Juneau practiced their avalanche rescue skills Saturday on top of Eaglecrest Ski Area.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

The annual pre-winter practice is a chance for Juneau's many rescue volunteers to work together before the season picks up and any real, large-scale avalanche rescue is needed.

"It fosters good relationships," said Brian Davies, the director of snow safety at Eaglecrest. "Juneau is a pretty fortunate town to have such a large rescue community that all works together. "

The groups that had volunteers participate in the mock rescue included the Eaglecrest ski patrol (both volunteer and professional), Juneau Mountain Rescue, the Capital City Fire Rescue rope rescue team, the Juneau Snowmachine Club, the SEADOGS, avalanche rescue personnel from Kensington Mine, Alaska Avalanche Specialists and Alaska Powder Descents.

The scene on top of Eaglecrest Saturday was managed chaos. Volunteers fanned out in a probe line, marching forward with 8 foot-long probes looking for a buried beacon or life-sized doll buried under the snow. Medical teams practiced shuttling victims off to safety. And two SEADOGS roamed about, trying to find the scent of a buried person.

The rescue took place on top of several inches of fresh snow in an exposed, windy and cold environment.

Organizers decided to have the mock rescue on top of the mountain this year to heighten the sense of realism. For a short time in the morning, volunteers were shuttled up on the chairlift.

"We decided we needed to step it up a notch," Davies said.

Davies said organizers also purposely included delays and lag time in dispatching some of the rescuers to create a more realistic picture of what a rescue looks like.

"Everybody knows it's a fake exercise but they treat it as the real thing," Davies said.

Another addition this year was a the presence of a handful of members of the Juneau Snowmobile Club. Its president, Ray Howard, said his organization is eager to help with avalanche rescues.

"We haven't had a really good opportunity to work with some of the other search rescue organizations," Howard said. "So this was great opportunity to ... work with the other folks."

Geoff Larson, a member of SEADOGS, said the mock rescue was a great chance for his dog, Jasmine, to practice picking up a scent of someone buried in the snow while ignoring the scent of the 50 or so volunteers out on the mountain.

"For (the dogs) it's a game," Larson said. "It's fun."

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.

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