Iceland rescue team trains in Routt County

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Routt County Search and Rescue often can be found doing backcountry training, but last week, it added a new twist with "across-country" training, with three members from the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue.

Magnas Valthorsson, Julius Gunnarsson and Palmi Masson spent last week in Colorado to study search and rescue techniques for their search and rescue teams in Iceland. The trio spent time with the Alpine Rescue Team in Evergreen and the Grand County and Routt County Search and Rescue teams.

The main goal when the team went to Routt County was to pick up snowmobile techniques. But on Friday afternoon, it was mixing business with pleasure as the group used snowmobiles to snowboard and ski with Routt County Search and Rescue members on Buffalo Pass.

Although Iceland's snow conditions are much different from Colorado's -- Iceland has hard, packed snow and glaciers, compared with Routt County's champagne powder -- the group said they learned how to evacuate patients with snowmobiles and operate different kinds of machinery.

"We are finding the best way to do things and hope to take something home with us, some new information," Valthorsson said.

The group is part of a training program for snowmobile rescue teams in Iceland and is updating its procedures.

Icelandic search and rescue teams train often in Europe, Masson said, but this was the team's first time in Colorado. The group was connected to Colorado search and rescue teams through Dale Atkins at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, who visited Iceland a few years ago to study avalanches.

Similar to the Routt County Search and Rescue, the Iceland teams are all volunteers; however, their missions are a little different.

Slightly smaller than Kentucky and with 285,000 people, Iceland is beset with volcanic eruptions, extreme weather and snow avalanches. The country also has more land covered in glaciers than the entire European continent.

The search and rescue teams conduct a variety of missions, including high-mountain rescues and sea searches.

The Icelandic search and rescue teams also have experience with avalanche rescues. In the past 10 years, there have been serious avalanches in urban areas, Gunnarsson said. They also have to rescue skiers and snowmobilers caught in avalanches.

From Steamboat, the group left for Evergreen to train with its Avalanche Rescue Team.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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