BEND, Ore. - Hydrologists, scientists and engineers from across the West descended on Central Oregon to learn survival skills to trek into the backcountry. They spent Wednesday night near Wanoga Sno-Park to learn what it's like to survive a cold night in the mountains.
What they've been practicing will not only benefit them but thousands of people living in the Western U.S.
Organizers say this program is important for anyone who is surveying in remote areas.
"Not only are the sites in hazardous locations, but getting there can be very often hazardous," said Mike Strobel, director of the National Water and Climate Center. "There is the risk of being stuck there overnight."
Strobel says it's important for hydrologists to get an accurate reading of snowpack for the many who depend on that water during the warmer times of year, from drinking water to agriculture, even tourism.
"In the West, the snow counts for 50 to 80 percent of our annual water supply," said Strobel. "So understanding how much snowpack is really critical to understand and make forecasts for water supplies throughout the year."
As part of the program, instructor Julie Koeberle, built a snow cave to brave the cold winter night.
"There are always accidents that happen," said Koeberle. "We want to be prepared. Luckily, I haven't had to do that. We always pick good days to go."
She says it took her about four hours to build the snow cave. Wednesday night, however, she was living in style, as she packed a few extra things in her pack.
"I pack it really small," said Koeberle, "I have a little extra luxury tonight like pillows, but normally I don't. I keep it really small -- that way I bring it with me every time."
As the week-long course wraps up, those a part of the program say they're ready to take on Mother Nature and Old Man Winter for the sake of their job.
"Lets say fog rolls in, and the helicopter can't take off and you have to spend the night," said Koeberle. "I would be totally prepared with the small pack I bring, spending the night overnight."
As of Wednesday, by the way, the snowpack in the Deschutes and Crooked river basin was at 94 percent of normal.