Searchers off to busy start for year

Volunteers have been called 7 times in 6 days to begin 2010

Darrel’s Survival Pack

Plan to head out into the backcountry? Local experts urge you to be prepared. Routt County Search and Rescue veteran and spokesman Darrel Levingston suggests the following kit:

■ 1. Waterproof/windproof matches and lighter.

■ 2. Various fire starters: Vaseline-soaked cotton balls, hand sanitizer, liquid gel.

■ 3. Small folding saw.

■ 4. Map and compass, and (optionally) a GPS device.

■ 5. Basic first aid kit (including antiseptic wipes, 2-inch-by-2-inch sterile pads, medical tape, Benadryl tablets).

■ 6. Water bottle and water purification tablets or water filter system.

■ 7. Two reflective emergency blankets or reflective tarps.

■ 8. Energy bars, trail mix, power gels, cacao packets.

■ 9. Tin cup with insulated handle for warming snow or water.

■ 10. Warm hat and gloves, wool socks, fleece vest, rain coat and pants.

■ 11. Multi-tool (Leatherman type), duct tape (small amount), 15 to 20 feet of lightweight rope.

■ 12. Headlamp with extra batteries.

■ 13. Sunscreen.

■ 14. Two days’ supply of essential prescribed medications.

■ 15. Cell phone (keep this close to your body to keep the battery warm).

Also: Always tell someone where you are going and when you’ll return and/or leave an itinerary on the front seat of your car.

— Since the start of the new year, Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers have been called seven times in six days for lost snowshoers, skiers and snowmobilers.

One of the searches resulted in a fatality.

Search and Rescue spokesman Darrel Levingston said Thursday that many of the searches have been the result of typical mistakes — taking a wrong turn that led to areas with deep snow where they couldn’t get out.

“It’s a little early to tell, but we had seven calls in six days, so it’s starting off gangbusters,” Levingston said. “Up until New Year’s Day, it was relatively quiet. Even though we had massive amounts of people in town over the holidays, everybody stayed safe.”

Of the calls in the new year, rescuers have been able to talk people out of the wilderness about half the time without needing to conduct actual searches.

Steamboat Ski Area patrollers were called Sunday and Monday for people who went into the Fish Creek drainage area on the western side of the ski area.

Both times, ski patrollers had to rescue the skiers from the steep cliffs in the drainage by lowering them down to safety. There were two such rescues Sunday and one on Monday.

“Probably what they could do differently is basically know where they’re going or don’t go, have the proper gear, and know what the conditions are like out there,” Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokesman Mike Lane said. “When you put yourself in a spot like that, you’re going to put people who come get you in danger, too.”

Search and Rescue volunteers were paged for those incidents, too, but ski patrollers handled the missions.

Lane said skiers should remember that they can be billed for out-of-bounds rescues involving ski patrol. Lane declined to give a range of how much each rescue can cost because it depends on how many people and what equipment is used, he said.

Search and Rescue volunteers do not charge for their services and instead rely on grants and donations.

Lane said there are signs at the ski area directing where skiers can leave the Steamboat Ski Area toward the Fish Creek canyon. Those signs also warn skier and riders to be prepared.

Search and Rescue volunteers and ski patrollers also searched for Grace McNeil, the ski instructor from Arapahoe Basin Ski and Snowboard Area who was reported missing Tuesday afternoon and found dead Wednesday morning at the bottom of Chute 3.

On Wednesday night, Search and Rescue volunteers were paged to Buffalo Mountain, where a 36-year-old local reportedly took a wrong turn coming down the mountain and failed to meet up with the snowmobiler who was to take him back to the top of the run.

“It’s a mission we do a couple times a year,” Levingston said. Buff Pass backcountry area is popular for snowmobilers and skiers, but it’s easy to get lost, make a wrong turn, or worse, end up in either the Spring Creek or Fish Creek drainage.

The lost Buff Pass skier from Wednesday managed to ski out to safety and was not injured.

“The biggest piece of advice we can give people is every time they go, (they should) be prepared to spend the night,” Levingston said. “Of course, always let somebody know where you’re going and when you’re going to return so if they don’t return, at least we get a jump up on it and might be able to get them before they spend the night.”

Lane said out-of-bounds skiers also should be wary of avalanches with the recent snow.

The Colorado Avalanche Infor­mation Center lists the north, east and south faces of slopes in the Steamboat region as high danger zones because of strong westerly winds that created drifts.

“Do not let bluebird skies and powder fever lure you into potentially hazardous terrain,” avalanche forecaster John Snook wrote on the Web site Thursday morning.

The center also has a report of a 3- to 4-foot-deep, skier-triggered slide Tuesday in the Fish Creek Canyon, and several other recent slides in the area. No injuries were reported from those slides.

— To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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