11 March 2007

What Kind Of Training? Avy Training, Sir!

Mt. Jefferson, shrouded in clouds. 10x optical zoom rules.

Very little skiing for me this weekend. We were much too busy walking around the snowpack above the climbers' lot at Timberline, waving beeping things around and following the beeping, digging holes, poking long sticks into the snow, and digging more holes.

I did get a run in, though. Sort of.

Saturday was field session #1, and we spent the morning practicing transceiver searches. I left the camera at home, because I figured I'd be too busy to snap pictures, and that the weather would probably suck. Anytime you have to stand around a lot for the patrol, it usually rains.

I was a little off. The morning was nice, and it was warm enough that we didn't have to be terribly bundled up to start with. And by the time we were getting deep into the transceiver practice, we were plenty warm. Basically, we had to go find slightly buried avalanche transceivers hidden somewhere in a zone that was probably eighty yards square, give or take. I did a pretty good job with that, as most of us did, and one of my searches took me on a looping route that demonstrated pretty well how the 'flux lines' work.

The afternoon was when I finally got to step into my skis. We got geared up and went over to the Magic Mile chair, taking it up and skiing the east boundary of the area. We had permission to duck the rope (we're the ski patrol - don't try this at home) and off we went a little ways into what I believe is the Salmon River Canyon to dig our snowpack evaluation pits. We broke up into groups and dug 5'-6' deep pits to analyze the snow layers and do some stability tests. I volunteered to be the jumper for the Rutschblock test, which was kinda fun, but ultimately disappointing since very little snow slid from my jumping. I was really hammering it, too, after the initial upweight/downweight cycles.

I was pleased with my new avy shovel. Kinda wish it had a telescoping shaft, to give more leverage, but it worked fine. The space for an extra length of tube was taken up by the folding probe stored in the shaft anyway.

That part was pretty much the end of our day. They asked if anyone wanted to help with closing/sweep, and of course I did. But,I'd carpooled with a couple classmates from the Govy building up to T-line, and both of them wanted to just get home, so no sweep for me. Just as well, I suppose - I was pretty tired from all the tromping around, which was tough going because I kept 'post-holing' - plunging in knee-deep or deeper - every few steps whenever walking on the snow.

Fellow apprentice Ed listens to trainers Steve and Sharon as most of the group trudges up the slope from the climbers' lot.

Sunday, I did bring the camera. The new one, thanks to the missus - she bought it for me for passing my sled training for the patrol (and probably also because our old camera is 4 years old and only a 3x zoom, which I've been bitching about for a while now...).
The weather was kinda crappy for picture-taking in the morning, but it did start to clear towards mid-afternoon. Basically, day #2 was more transceiver practice, focusing on multiple transceiver searches. We had a couple transceivers buried within 20m of each other to give us a better idea of what we might experience in a real search, and also to prepare us for the scenario.

Apprentice Rick discussing the finer points of multiple transceiver searches with trainer Justin.

One of the other of our groups, off in the distance, heading towards their training area.

Trainer Sharon going over the concentric circle technique for finding another signal.

In the afternoon we worked on probe lines. This is where you're looking for buried avalanche victims who aren't wearing transceivers by poking long skinny poles into the snow. I was using my own probe pole, which was light and thin, but handling things well. I was able to break through some of the hard layers of ice deep into the snowpack.

Trainers Sharon and Justin preparing to get us going on probe line practice.

After probe practice, it was scenario time. I got assigned to the second column of rescuers, and set to work probing around obvious clues (skis protruding from the snow, in my case) to try and find the 'bodies' that the trainers had buried for us in our avalanche zone. They did a great job creating the scenario - nice crown face, plenty of chunked-up snow in the deposition zone.

Our avalanche zone. Note the multiple clues and the well-constructed crown face.

Gathering for the scenario briefing.

The immediate search team gets going.

My first 'strike' with a probe turned out to be a false strike, but I didn't find that out until after digging out almost 4 feet of snow. My second strike was definitely the real deal, and learning the difference between hitting ice and something soft and sort of spongy turned out to be valuable. I saved some fellow searchers the trouble of digging by checking what they thought was a strike and finding it was an ice lens. Dave and I dug out the 'victim', which turned out to be a sled pad. Johnson splints were also used as 'victims'.

Our last 'victim', one rather beat-up sled pad.

Somewhere in the continuing probing around clues after my 'rescue', I snapped the top section off my probe pole. Crap! But not before I punched a hole in the palm of my glove. Double crap! I should have switched to using one of the probe poles provided for us - made from 1/2" electrical conduit - instead of continuing to use my collapsible probe, and I should have switched to my heavy leather work gloves instead of keeping my ski gloves on.

The collapsible probes probably aren't meant for the kind of abuse I put it through on Sunday. I was probing a LOT, and into some pretty hard layers of ice.

Oh well. I sent an e-mail off to Voile. Maybe I can get a warranty replacement.

After a while, the trainers ended the scenario. But we weren't done. There was still a 'victim' left to find, and we found it in a section of the slide zone that somehow managed to get missed by probe teams. I think our avalanche guard was poorly positioned, because he later said he didn't think he could see the area where we'd missed.

The patrol building in Government Camp.

After we found the sled pad, we adjourned back to the Govy building to return equipment and go over the written test. Those of us who'd been up both days this weekend were done, so for myself and a handful of other apprentices, only First Responder Training remains. I'm signed up for the next available session, and it looks like if everything goes well, I will be fully patrolling by the end of this month. Woohoo!

A couple of us retired to the Ratskeller afterward, and I learned that some of our more experienced patrollers had completed their senior patroller program. So, I joined them for a beer and some pizza before heading home.

The 'Rat'. Unofficial de-briefing area of the patrol.

On a bummer note, I also learned from JG that we lost another one of the gals in our apprentice group to injury. The '06-'07 apprentice class seems to really have been bitten by the injury bug. I think something like 2 of our original 6 or so female hill apprentices are still healthy. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we don't lose any more of the group.


Barkernews said...

Sorry 'bout your probe... and the injured apprenti.
You guys have lost a lot of people, huh?

Ghost Dog said...

Seems like it. I think 4 of the girls. Not sure we've lost any of the guys.

brando said...

Broken probe.

And that's a fact jack!