Winter survival skills a must when working or playing | SierraSun.com

Winter survival skills a must when working or playing

Kara Fox
Sierra Sun

Ryan Salm/Sierra SunLynn Kitchen moves into a snow cave he built at Granlibakken as part of a snow survey and safety school on Wednesday.

Lynn Kitchen lies in his self-made snow cave and explains that packing the snow tight and letting it bind together will make for a sturdier survival shelter.

The Utah resident said it took him two-and-a-half hours to build the snow cave at Granlibakken last week as part of the Natural Resources Conservation Services snow school.

Kitchen and 59 other participants in the snow school in Tahoe City walked away with winter survival skills, considered essential for their jobs as snow surveyors who often range far into the mountains to monitor precipitation data.

But winter survival is not for snow scientists alone. Backcountry skiers, hikers, and even motorists have to be prepared for the unexpected in winter climates and mountainous regions.

Hypothermia is the No. 1 killer of outdoor recreationists nationwide, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It has killed 16,555 between 1979 and 2002 in the Unites States, an average of 689 people per year, according to the agency.

Cold weather survival techniques were thrust into the national spotlight earlier this winter when San Franciscan James Kim and three climbers on Mount Hood died in the Oregon wilderness from exposure or exposure-induced accidents.

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“It’s easier to stay out of trouble than to get yourself out of trouble,” said Tuck Brouhard, a survival instructor with Learn to Return in Anchorage, Alaska. “Try to get your act together quick.”

Snow caves are often the last resort for those caught out in the elements at night. Kitchen said the easiest and quickest way to build a snow cave is by digging into the snow and building in the ground. But when that is not possible, taking snow and building an above-ground cave is an option.

Snow caves should have a small opening and should be covered if possible. Many times snow caves are warmer than a tent, especially if the outdoor temperatures are below freezing.

According to the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Web site, the best way to survive in the wilderness is to stay put.

“From our experience and from collective experience from search and rescue operations across the U.S., we have learned that it is better for lost victims to stay put when they get lost.”

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