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Shuswap Search and Rescue takes avalanche training to better respond to crisis

Members work to better recognize avalanche terrain for safe, quick rescue
Shuswap Search and Rescue volunteers practise their avalanche rescue skills in January 2023. (Shuswap Search and Rescue- Facebook)

Winter Mountain Response team members with Shuswap Search and Rescue honed their skills in avalanche response training, preparing themselves for the dangerous conditions atop the region’s mountains.

The training helps members solidify their ability to recognize and avoid avalanche terrain, and how to act quickly and effectively in the event of a slide, when they may need to rescue someone caught in one.

The first step in training is quick decision making, where the group rides out together to a spot on a mountain and stops to have a discussion about that particular piece of terrain. Members are asked to describe the location, make risk assessments and, ultimately, decide what their course of action would be in the event of an avalanche rescue. Then the team rides on to another location and repeats the process. Training officer Gordon Bose said this gives members a chance to hash out all possible scenarios and how each strategy would work differently in different places.

On the second day, the team puts what they discussed into action with practice dummies in rescue scenarios. They use transceivers and communicate with each other as they would in real rescues. The instructor brings along a dog trained with the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association. Bose said the dog jumps in and works with the team in the practice scenarios, which is valuable experience because if they did have to respond to an avalanche, there would likely be more than one rescue dog on scene and the Shuswap team doesn’t always get to interact with the dogs.

The team takes avalanche training yearly with a professional trainer, and they have been working with the same trainer now for about five years. The trainer has seen the group improve their skills year after year, and it’s helpful to have that consistency when refreshing necessary safety skills, said Bose.

Every member is fully certified in avalanche skills training with Avalanche Canada or other accreditation, but since the skills are so important and need to be practised often, the team undergoes a refresher once a year.

Bose said the Shuswap team is doing very well and received great feedback from the instructor.

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Rebecca Willson

About the Author: Rebecca Willson

I took my first step into the journalism industry in November 2022 when I moved to Salmon Arm to work for the Observer and Eagle Valley News. I graduated with a journalism degree in December 2021 from MacEwan University in Edmonton.
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