When Help is More Than a Phone Call Away

By Beacon Staff

Grab the cell to dial 9-1-1, but no bars. Much of northwest Montana runs outside the wireless grid. For that reason, those who recreate in the backcountry in winter—skiers, snowshoers, snowmobilers–are heading back to class.

Winter backcountry emergencies pose tricky dilemmas that increase risk with avalanches, storms, and frigid temperatures. “It’s important to prepare for emergency situations that involve prolonged patient care, severe environments, and improvised equipment,” says Sue Purvis, who has retrieved more than her share of corpses from avalanches.

During the next month, specialized courses come to the aid of backcountry recreaters. They teach participants how to travel more safely in the backcountry and “make do” with severe injuries when help is more than a few minutes away.

In Whitefish, Valhalla Adventures (www.valhallaadv.com; 406-250-8092) teams up with Crested Butte Outdoors to teach a Wilderness First Aid Course Nov. 10-11. “The course gives students the competence and confidence to make solid decisions in the backcountry regarding a medical emergency,” says Purvis, owner of Crested Butte Outdoors and the course’s instructor.

The 16-hour class focuses on potential winter emergencies such as hypothermia and dealing with injured avalanche survivors. “We learn the difference between a medical emergency and a logistical dilemma,” says Purvis. The course gives participants Wilderness First Aid certification along with a professional CPR and anaphylaxis cards valid for three years.

This is no sit in the classroom course. Students practice hypothermia wraps and patient packaging for lifting, moving and extrication. Most of the class takes place hands-on outdoors with whatever the weather dishes up—rain or snow.

To beef up avalanche skills, the Flathead Nordic Patrol will offer their Level I Avalanche Course on Nov. 30 through Dec. 1 at Mountain West Bank in Whitefish. To sign up, call Greg Fortin at 871-2162.

In winter, help may be more than a phone call away. The wise learn how to deal with it.

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