By Dan Walton
Columbia Valley Search and Rescue holds bi-monthly practices, but once each year, the team invites their life-saving counterparts from nearby jurisdictions to participate in a large-scale mock avalanche scenario.
We dont often get to practice scenarios at this scale, so we put a lot of effort into re-creating something that could actually happen, said Scott McClain, avalanche professional at Panorama and a member of Columbia Valley Search and Rescue. We like to involve more than our own group, so other agencies in the local area as well as other regional search and rescue teams.
In addition to keeping their avalanche rescue skills sharp throughpractice, the Columba Valley Search and Rescue also does its best to forecast the natural disasters.
We track the snow to see what recipes happening this particular season, he said. Typically, some activity will happen shortly after a major storm, while others can be naturally triggered by wind or sun.
Assisting in this years scenario was Summit, the new avalanche-rescue dog whos still in training. Hes handled by Tania Halik, a long-time search and rescue volunteer whos certified through the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association.
Tanya has been in the valley for a number of years and used to be a forecaster here at Panorama, said Mr. McClain, adding that Tania has included other rescue dogs during the annual practice.
Even though the new recruit is still in training, were super excited to have Summit in the local area for search and rescue, he said.
After basic demonstrations at the top of the hill, dozens of volunteers, including Summit, made their way down the Elmo run off of View of 1,000 Peaks to execute a mock scenario involving several dummies buried under the path of a controlled avalanche. Instead of being at the mercy of nature, intentional blasts brought heaps on snow down a predictable path, where make-believe victims happened to be skiing.
The team scoured the avalanche path in search of pretend survivors, which were actually pieces of clothing stuffed in the shape of humans.
While they had clues to work with, rescuers were unaware of where the victims were covered, as the Panorama Ski Patrol arranged the mock disaster before the search and rescue teams could evaluate. With several experts from around the Kootenays taking part, the search was efficient, allowing for a prompt and successful rescue effort.
We worked really well together, and had a chance to work with different team members, said Mr. McClain. You always learn something new from people you havent worked with before.
Because of the vast effort applied to the scenarios, the local unit always welcomes Search and Rescue teams from bordering jurisdictions to take part in exercises.
The Columbia Valley groups coverage area is very large, as their region spreads as far north as Spillimacheen and south to Canal Flats, west to the height of land in the Purcell Mountains and to the Alberta border in the Rockies.
Avalanches have injured and killed valley residents and visitors in the recent past. In February 2013, a 34-year-old skier visiting from Germany was killed by an avalanche during a heli-skiing trip in the Purcell Mountains. In April 2012, a skier-triggered Class 3 avalanche near Panorama Mountain Village, in an out-of-bounds area known as Jessies Monster, seriously injured a skier who was swept 300 metres down the slide path and over a cliff.
The Columbia Valley Search and Rescue team is always looking for new recruits. Those with backcountry experience and an interest are invited to see what the teams all about by calling Dave Hubbard at 250-688-2504.