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Venturing Crew trained in winter survival at Wolf Creek

“Be Prepared” is the Boy Scouts of America’s motto.

How many of us, who live, work, play and travel in the high country, especially in the winter season of cold, snow and possible avalanche, are truly “prepared,” whether that be in your car or out enjoying this beautiful wilderness we have so available to us? Most of us in this area tend to look at the snow-covered mountains in awe of their beauty and forget how cruel and unforgiving this part of the country can be.

On Friday, Feb. 17, the Wolf Creek Ski Patrol hosted a Winter Survival Class for the Pagosa Springs Venturing Crew. The morning began with Jon Reed, Aleph Johnson-Bloom and Bob Leentjes leading discussions of topics ranging from traveling in the back country and what to be on the lookout for, avalanche awareness, recognition and avoidance, creating a shelter if caught overnight outdoors and basic survival gear for in the car while traveling and out in the wilderness while skiing or snowshoeing.

TriState Careflight, a Durango-based medical helicopter, arrived on the mountain to demonstrate helicopter landing zone procedures. Brian Walsh, pilot, Brock Different, nurse, and Josh Bowley, medic, answered questions and explained air transport and medical rescue procedures from both the aviation and medical side.

The afternoon’s activities was an explanation and demonstration of Wolf Creek Ski Patrol’s best-kept secret. For about 20 years, the Ski Patrol has been involved in an avalanche dog program. Most are aware of the avalanche beacon and probe pole search, but at Wolf Creek, there are approximately 10 dogs trained to locate avalanche victims. Each dog is owned and trained by one of Wolf Creek Ski Patrol.

Avalanche search dogs are one tool used to find lost persons buried in snowslides. Probe pole teams and transceivers (if used by the buried person) are about the only other options used to find slide victims until the snowpack melts.

The sense of urgency during a search for a person buried by an avalanche cannot be understated. Survival statistics tell us that 90 percent of slide victims are alive at the 15-minute mark. After 35 minutes, the survival rate is at 30 percent and quickly drops after that. Unless trained personnel and dogs are on hand near a slide incident, it’s quite likely that search results will be to find a deceased person.

Brian Pringle, along with three other ski patrollers and avalanche dogs Katie and Edwin, demonstrated both the avalanche beacon search and a dog search and rescue and, yes, someone was actually buried in the snow for the dog to locate.

The Venturing Crew members and some of their parents finished the day with a few runs down the mountain or snowshoeing the base.

A huge thanks to Wolf Creek Ski Area and Ski Patrol, along with TriState Careflight for an educational and entertaining day. Your time and sharing your knowledge on winter travel and recreation preparedness was greatly appreciated and an invaluable learning experience.

For more information about the Pagosa Springs Venturing Crew, go to

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