HOUGHTON - While avalanches may not be as common an occurrence in the Midwest as out west, Northern Michigan avalanche search and rescue advisor Dave Hartman believes the approximately 50 people that die every year from avalanches are almost completely preventable.
That is why Hartman led a level 1 class on avalanches at Mont Ripley in January, and he is now hosting an advanced level 2 class from Saturday through Feb. 15. Both classes are accredited by the American Avalanche Association.
"It becomes really important that we teach people in the Midwest," Hartman said. "What we're trying to do is increase awareness through the national ski patrol."
Garrett Neese/Daily?Mining Gazette
Participants train at an avalanche course held at Mont Ripley Jan. 7. A level 2 advanced course will be held Wednesday through Feb. 15 involving classroom education as well as hands-on work near Phoenix and at Mont Ripley.
The main focus of the class may be for people traveling out west near more mountainous regions, but Hartman said a common myth is that avalanches do not happen in the Midwest. And with snowmobilers dying in avalanches becoming a more common trend, it becomes even more important to train people in snowmobile-heavy areas, he said.
"Right now, snowmobilers account for 56 percent of deaths," Hartman said. "This practice they have called highmarking, which is trying to climb a steep hill, (is dangerous because) it can cut a part of the slope loose and that tends to precipitate avalanches."
The class starts Saturday with two days of classroom education. The classroom teaching will cover topics like snow physics and organizing rescue operations. Then, starting Monday, the class will go out and do three days of hands-on work.
"Monday we're probably going to go by Phoenix and do snow study," Hartman said. "People will be able to look at the snow, determine what its strength is, what kind of crystals there are and whether it will slide given a sufficient angle."
Tuesday's work will either continue at Phoenix or move to Mont Ripley, where the class will practice search and rescue techniques like shoveling and searching using avalanche search electronic beacons. For the final day, the team will then perform a mock rescue situation.
"We're going to tell the students someone is buried," Hartman said. "They organize the complete search and rescue situation."
Training in search and rescue is of the utmost importance, Hartman said, because time is of the essence when it comes to avalanches.
"If someone is caught or buried in an avalanche, their odds of survival are 50 percent," Hartman said. "After an hour, it falls to 5 percent ... so if they're not rescued by a person in their own party, it's likely they will die."
The level 2 advanced class is available to anyone who has completed the level one course. The class runs Saturday through Wednesday and is $150, which does not cover food or lodging. To register, or for more information, contact Hartman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 517-223-0286.