Snow surveyors build on survival knowledge

'Snow school' at Bachelor includes building, using snow shelters

Building survival skills

BEND, Ore. - There's an elite group from across the West training at Mt. Bachelor, but they're not on skis or snowboards.

It's a "snow school" for snow surveyors, and it's put on by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service every January. They learn about snow sampling, avalanche recognition, outdoor survival and emergency care.

On Wednesday, snow shelters scattered the woods at Wanoga Sno-Park for one of the exercises.

"We're trying to work quick and smart, like in an emergency situation," said Utah Snow Survey hydrologist Jeff O'Connell.

Mike Stobel, director of the National Water and Climate Center, said, "Folks go into some pretty remote hazardous conditions, and so building that confidence and building that ability for them to get through if that does happen is critical."

O'Connell was one of the many practicing those critical skills.

"We started digging down, not all the way to the ground because snow has some insulating properties," O'Connell said.

But with not a lot of snow, O'Connell and his team utilized other resources like skis and old Christmas trees. Anything to insulate, since they'll be staying the night.

"If you build your cave well, inside the cave the temperatures will be 25 to 31 degrees," Stobel said. "They'll be pretty comfortable."

Although Wednesday's exercise is about learning and fun...

"I always find this fascinating. Every year, there's always stuff that's different," Stobel said.

It may one day save a life.

"There's definitely instances where this could happen, where we've snowmobiled in quite a ways," O'Connell said. "If things aren't working, you're definitely spending the night, rather than exerting yourself."

So how do you make a well-built snow cave?

No. 1, don't overdo it. Sweating will eventually make you cold. The lower the temperatures, the lower you will want to dig into the snow. And make use of the snow -- it can be a good insulator.

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