Avalanche rescue expert comes to Copper Mountain Resort

Breeana Laughlin
The Flight For Life Colorado conference at Copper Mountain focus is on avalanche rescue, technology and medical response – including an overview of the latest statistical model for avalanche survival, first responder/search and rescue coordination and evacuation methods.
Submitted photo |

While skiers and boarders were sliding down the mountainside at Copper Mountain, hundreds of rescue workers were learning about avalanche safety techniques inside the ski area’s conference center.

Worldwide avalanche rescue authority Manuel Genswein, of Switzerland, gave the keynote speech during the Flight For Life Colorado Search and Rescue Conference at Copper this weekend.

It’s important to keep the time line of the avalanche in mind when trying to rescue someone whose been buried by in snow, Genswein said. “You lose 2 percent survival chance per minute.”

This is the fourth year Flight For Life Colorado has hosted a search and rescue conference, but it’s the first year the conference has been devoted solely to avalanche rescue.

“Given the fact we live in Colorado and it’s the one state that leads the nation in avalanche fatalities, we thought that would be a good thing to do,” said Kevin Kelble, Flight For Life paramedic and Copper Mountain ski patrol member.

Conference participants got the chance to hear from industry, but it was Genswein’s experience many came to soak up.

“Manuel’s the foremost worldwide recognized expert on beacons — and not just beacons but the whole avalanche picture,” Kelble said. “He’s published dozens and dozens of papers across the world on snow science and rescue. He’s also done a tremendous amount of research.”

Genswein’s presentation on Saturday focused on how to assess an avalanche rescue situation and take proper action to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

When an avalanche occurs, multiple buried subjects are likely, and limited rescue resources are very likely, Genswein said.

“When you have a shortage of resources you cannot treat everyone simultaneously. A decision on the sequence of rescue needs to take place,” he said.

The avalanche rescue expert explained the logistics behind investing resources on one patient vs. rescuing another. He also talked about techniques rescuers can adapt to increase an avalanche victim’s chance of survival.

Rescuers need to assess the situation and snap into action as quickly as possible, Genswein said. “You lose survival chance when you don’t act immediately.”

Local search and rescue professional Kelble said he appreciated Genswein’s approach to organizing a rescue to be as efficient as possible.

“You are streamlining the whole process to get the best possible outcome because you have the parameters in place that have been proven in research,” Kelble said.

Genswein’s keynote speech was one of several lectures that took place throughout the weekend. The conference also included a variety of hands-on search-and-rescue exercises.

Conference participants, who ranged from search-and-rescue newbies to seasoned professionals, spent most of the day outdoors on Friday, working with beacons on search techniques. Saturday focused on the medical side of search and rescue. And today, conference organizers plan to provide information about weather. They will also host a scenario for participants to put what they’ve learned over the course of the weekend into action.

“We are going to put it all together in a multiple burial scenario and manage that scenario,” Kelble said. “They are going to have to go out there and produce, hopefully, what they’ve learned over the past few days.”

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