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Deaths remind us about safety

Staff Reports

It seems it takes a death to wake up the rest of us to the inherent dangers of living and playing in the mountains.

Five fatalities in the Tahoe-Truckee area since the last big storm is a cruel reminder that nature is ultimately bigger than our human endeavors.

A college student died from an avalanche on a “sled hill.” A Squaw Valley employee fell off a fast-moving snowmobile into the path of another machine. A long-time second homeowner at Northstar died from a collapse of snow while he was digging out his utilities. A man died on Donner Summit’s train tracks because he used them for a cross country ski excursion. Another man at Squaw Valley USA died when he skied into a tree.

These are serious and sad incidents of the Sierra in winter, but they are not a reason to stop sledding, snowmobiling, skiing or working in our yards. They are a reason to stop and think.

Tahoe-Truckee schoolchildren are taught early on about winter safety in the Hug a Tree curriculum, created by elementary school teachers with the help of the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team.

Adults, too, could definitely stand to review its principles.

Before you go outside to play or to work, remember to S-T-O-P. Stop, Think, Observe, Plan.

Stop and tell someone what you are doing. The Hug a Tree curriculum tells children the 3 Ws ” always tell someone Where you are going, When you will be back and Who you will be with.

You may not believe that you need to tell someone that you’re skiing at a downhill ski area, but most lost skiers are downhill skiers who stray out-of-bounds.

You may not think that an hour hike in the woods is of much concern, but you could get hurt, weather could change, anything could happen. If someone knows where you are and that you’re not home on time, a search will begin for you that much quicker.

At the very least, leave a note at home or in your car that friends or family could find.

Think before you go about the weather, your clothing, your destination. Observe changing conditions, the route you are taking in the woods so you can find your way back. Observe the snow conditions and see if they pose any danger.

Plan to take necessary precautions – perhaps someone to shovel with you, a survival kit on an outing, put on another layer of clothing, etc.

Rescue personnel will also tell you that S-T-O-P also will help prevent you from panicking and doing something stupid if you do become lost.

We don’t have to dwell on the dangers, but a quick assessment of our situation is a good idea.

Am I digging too far under a bank of snow that will collapse? There have been deaths of people digging down under the snow to grab that last piece of wood in a buried woodpile.

Have I thought about whether my propane tank’s valve is free of snow and ice? A home explodes from a propane leak just about every winter.

Am I skiing, sledding or snowmobiling in a safe environment? What are the possible impacts of this much snow? Is there avalanche danger? How do I know if this lake, stream, river is frozen enough to snowmobile across it?

Is this sled hill too steep, too fast? Will the bump at the end of the sled hill throw my child upside down on their head?

It’s pretty much common sense, but in our zest for life, we can sometimes forget that winter conditions can be deadly.

-This column is provided courtesy of the Tahoe World.


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