Nordic Patrol Hones Avalanche Skills

By Beacon Staff

Eighteen backcountry skiers and snowmobilers huddled in 10 degrees early Saturday morning as the wind whipped about them. Despite little snow, they practiced techniques for rescuing victims caught in avalanches.

This was one of several classes taught by the Flathead Nordic Patrol, a local group of skiers dedicated to winter rescues in the backcountry. The Avalanche I certification course taught by Greg Fortin emphasized the human factor in causing avalanches. “If you want to ski it, it’s most likely an avalanche slope,” Fortin reiterated several times.

The class, open to the public, attracted winter backcountry travelers seeking more knowledge as well as two members of the U.S. Border Patrol who work on skis. Fortin, also owner of Glacier Ski Tours, taught how to recognize avalanche conditions, choose better routes, use transceivers, probe for a buried body, and dig snow pits. He repeated, “You’ve only got a 15-minute window to recover a buried person alive.”

Among those attending the class was Aleta Bassett, a candidate in training for the Nordic Patrol. She’s currently working through the education hoops to serve with the patrol on rescues. She’ll join them next weekend in their annual On The Trail Refresher in Essex, where they will practice backcountry patrol skills such as technical rope rescues and transporting victims by sled.

You can still pick up Avalanche I education in January. The free US Forest Service program mixes a four-night lecture series with two Saturday field sessions. Check www.glacieravalanche.org or call 406-837-6022 for details. Valhalla Adventures also teaches Avalanche I certification courses on Jan. 11 – 13 and Feb. 29 – Mar. 2. Details are available at www.valhallaadv.com or 406-250-8092.

Glacier Country Avalanche Center offers a scholarship fund for anyone interested in avalanche education. Named in honor of Cal Tassanari who pioneered avalanche education in northwest Montana, the scholarship can cover up to half the cost of the course. The deadline for applications is Dec. 22. Consult www.glacieravalanche.org for more information.