Ready-set, be backcountry safe
- By Brent Clark
There is an allure to going into the backcountry to be at one with nature as you slide across the snow. These moments of solitude and self-preservation will be quite memorable, especially if you survive.
There are inherent dangers in the surrounding Selkirk, Purcell and Cabinet Mountains, including unmarked obstacles, 6-foot deep tree wells created by wind blowing around trees, steep drop-offs and ice fall. The most significant life-changing event
could be an avalanche that could cut your ski run and life short.
First, skiers and boarders should pencil in the calendar for a time later in the winter season when the snowpack becomes more stable after warming and freezing cycles.
A prerequisite is that everyone in your group should attend an avalanche awareness course and purchase portable shovels that can handle the solidified snow found in an avalanche, collapsible probes for finding an avalanche victim, and an avalanche beacon/transceiver. Not only will everyone need these items, but they should also practice with them as a unit to develop their skills in finding a buried beacon on the ski hill or even at a downtown park.
More safety tips:
• Ski/board in a group. Trade off on breaking trail with a boot or climbing skin track. Continue to assess snowpack conditions. Dig snow pits and kick snow off on test slopes to see what happens.
• Bring extra supplies. Extra water and a water filter will quench the thirst at the summit. Bring enough food so that you could survive if someone has to leave to get help, or if you get lost and have to spend the night.
• Ski under control and safely.
• Check out with someone to tell them where you are going, your route and when you are expected back. Remember to notify them when you do arrive back.
• Check your local avalanche report before heading out. For the Sandpoint area, an extensive report can be found on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest Web site for various areas: www.fs.fed.us/ipnf/visit/conditions/backcountry. Avalanche awareness classes are also listed here.
• For information on Avalanche Awareness, visit the National Snow and Ice Data Center and avalanche awareness section at http://nsidc.org/snow/avalanche/#Gear. The site offers some excellent tips for avalanche survival, such as loosening your pack before heading across a suspect slope, using swimming motions upward to stay near the surface of the snow, and the steps to take when rescuing a victim.
These are just the basic safety tips. Arm yourself with the knowledge and the gear needed to help save a friend’s life.