Tuesday, February 12, 2002
Steamboat Springs Possibly the most important factor in Monday's snowmobile incident was that everyone involved was experienced in the backcountry.
Fourteen people, including a 5-year-old boy, spent Sunday night in the elements after getting stuck in a steep drainage north of Columbine. They were rescued by friends and Routt County Search and Rescue Monday.
"The fact that they were all local and known by Search and Rescue members to be good backcountry snowmobilers. Knowing that, even without talking with them, we thought there should be a level of expertise that would facilitate staying out all night," Routt County Sheriff's Investigator Ken Klinger said.
Officials made that assumption late Sunday night. When Search and Rescue showed up on Monday, the assumption was correct everyone in the group was fine. If the group wasn't prepared and experienced, it might have been a different story.
"It could have been a real serious problem," Klinger said.
Essentially, the difference between life and death when spending an unplanned winter night outside is just a few pounds of gear.
"Fire is the most important thing to have," Search and Rescue member Scott Havener said.
That means having two or three different ways to start a blaze, such as matches and lighters, as well as a fire starter like cotton balls soaked in Vaseline, he said.
A small saw to cut wood also is a good idea.
On top of that, people should always bring extra essentials when traveling into the backcountry, even if the trip is planned for a short time. That means extra water and food, a change of socks, a spare hat, another layer or two of clothes for the body (not cotton) and even a small camp stove and a pot to boil water in.
A means of communication also is fast becoming an essential item in the backcountry, Routt County Search and Rescue member John McArthur said.
"We have people now carrying cell phones," he said.
In fact, the group that spent Sunday night in a drainage used a cell phone to call for help.
"It would be great to have a (Global Positioning System), too. We've had real good luck with those during hunting season," McArthur said.
A person using a Global Positioning System can identify his or her exact position in terms of longitude and latitude by use of a satellite signal. One of those devices can be picked up for about $100.
Other equipment that can come in handy includes a shovel, flashlight, a signaling device, an avalanche beacon and most importantly, a light warm blanket.
"Anything that is light and easy to carry," McArthur said.
Also, snowmobilers and backcountry skiers always should tell someone where they are going and when they plan to return.