Winter mountain sports include a wide variety of activities. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice climbing require understanding of the terrain, adequate training and the participant’s physical limitations.
Unfortunately, even with the best preparation, serious accidents can occur and the intervention of outdoor rescue specialists is needed. These rescues can vary greatly and include searching for avalanche survivors, getting injured participants off a mountain and administering medical care in the cold wilderness.
Ted Grave of Cheshire, Conn. directs the Mount Snow ski patrol in Vermont. The staff consists of 80 members, 60 of whom are volunteers. Although many have some medical background, all share a love of the outdoors and a willingness to risk their personal safety for others.
“The most important requirement of the National Ski Patrol is excellent skiing or snowboarding skills; the medical information can be taught,” said Graves. Each staff member must successfully complete a course in outdoor emergency care.
Sally Grave, Ted’s wife, manages the base unit that is attached to an urgent care center staffed by physicians and physician assistants. Serious injuries may require helicopter evacuation to a trauma center.
Although the most common injuries continue to be fractures and sprains of the extremities, automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are available on the mountain in case of cardiac arrest.
Adequate preparation is crucial for winter mountain safety:
• Participants should be in good general health before venturing into the wilderness.
• Helmet use is essential for winter activities that include moving at high speeds.
• Appropriate equipment including GPS devices, radios and clothing can be crucial in a crisis.
All mountain safety experts agree that the most important safety factor is good judgment. Knowing the abilities and limitations of yourself and others in your party is imperative to avoiding tragedy.