Summit County Rescue Group reminds public to report avalanches
December 23, 2017
The Summit County Rescue Group is reminding skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers to report avalanches they witness or trigger, especially if they are sure nobody was hurt or buried in one. The group, which is tasked by the sheriff's office to provide search and rescue services for the county, put out a public service announcement this week encouraging people on the slopes to report avalanches they personally witness as the report of an uneventful or victimless slide might save the county the risk and cost of conducting a search.
An avalanche reported after the fact, when it's unclear if anyone was caught or buried in the slide, mandates a large response by the rescue group and other associated rescue operations groups to check for potential victims. Rescue response might include Flight for Life helicopters, trained dog teams, ski patrol and specialized search teams. Once dispatched, they have to do the dangerous and time-consuming work of combing avalanche debris to check for potential victims or survivors.
Another benefit of reporting an avalanche as soon as it happens is the potential for better study of conditions in the area by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Their research may help with forecasting future avalanches and the avalanche danger in the area.
SCRG spokesman Charles Pitman said that the county responds to unreported avalanches several times during the winter, where it is difficult to tell if anyone was caught and triggers a rescue effort. He hoped that people in the backcountry could help them out by abiding by the general principle of "see something, say something."
The report of an uneventful or victimless slide might save the county the risk and cost of conducting a search.
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He also offered advice on how to spot signs of a new avalanche and distinguish them from one that is a few days old.
"If an avalanche is new, as in the last couple of days or so," he said in a written statement, "it's pretty obvious because the chunks of snow will look very fresh, the edges will be very ragged and the snow will be mixed up."
On the other hand, an older avalanche "will have new snow covered on top of it, which means it's probably two to four days old." In that situation, if nobody had been reported missing in that area recently, it's a pretty safe bet that the avalanche was uneventful and doesn't require a large response.
Reporting an avalanche in which there were no burials or injuries is nothing more complex than calling the non-emergent number for Summit County Dispatch at 970-668-8300. The information should include the location of the slide (GPS coordinates if available), approximate time of the slide, approximate size and the fact that there are no burials or injuries (or, if there were burials, the individual(s) were successfully extricated with no injuries). A contact number should be left in case the rescue group or CAIC wishes to obtain further information or clarification. Obviously, if there is an emergency (i.e., burial or injuries, or unknown) call 9-1-1."
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