Consistent snowfall creates busy winter for search and rescue
With all of the fresh powder this winter, people have been eager to get outdoors and play in it. However, the increased number of recreaters has also led to more calls for the Summit County Search and Rescue team.
As of Thursday, search-and-rescue volunteers had responded to approximately 13 calls since Nov. 11, with 10 occurring in January. During the 2015 winter, the team responded to two calls.
"Obviously with more snow it exponentially increases the number of people out and then it also makes it more difficult to access a patient or victim," Summit County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue liaison Alan Siddoway said. "It has been a very busy winter.
Summit County’s SAR operates under the auspices of the Sheriff’s Department, which coordinates with volunteers to facilitate search-and-rescue missions. SAR responds throughout the entire county, sometimes assisting in neighboring counties as well. Team members serve on a volunteer-basis.
This year, most of the team’s deployments have been to provide medical assistance, Siddoway said, adding that those are situations where someone has suffered an injury and medical personnel are unable to reach the patient.
Of the 13 calls, none have involved life-threatening injuries. However, the team has had to extricate victims with serious injuries.
Earlier this month, team members responded to a snowmobile accident in the Mud Lake Flat area of the Wasatch Cache National Forest, approximately 10 miles from a trailhead. SAR transported medical personnel to the scene and assisted in evacuating the 29-year-old Salt Lake City man, who suffered a fractured leg.
"We may just receive a call as a heads up that something is going on and then it resolves within a few minutes. Those aren’t given case numbers, but there have been over a half dozen of those calls," he said.
In December, volunteers were deployed on three separate occasions to locate missing or overdue hunters. All men were located safely.
"I think the more snow we have, especially after a good storm and the sun comes out, it’s almost like people lose their head and they get the white-powder fever and off they go. And really I’m no different," Search and Rescue (SAR) District Leader Kevan Todd said. "But that means more calls for us.
"We’ve been busier in years past, but it always seems the more snow we have the more problems and calls we have," Todd said.
Todd said he doesn’t mind the extra deployments, adding that he enjoys hopping on a snowmobile in the winter regardless of the reason.
"Everyone is snow hungry, that’s why we live here and that’s why we deal with the long winters because we enjoy the snow," Todd said. "I’ve spent 25 years in search and rescue and I do it because I enjoy playing in the snow and helping."
SAR members praised the Utah Avalanche Center for consistently updating the public on avalanche conditions and credited them with minimizing the number of people caught in slides this year. While the Avalanche Center reports that several have occurred in the Uintas, particularly in Weber Canyon, SAR has not responded to any avalanche-related calls.
Siddoway stressed the importance of recreaters telling someone where they intend to be and when they will return.
"Basically I can’t stress enough to use good common sense," Siddoway said. "We often get calls from spouses and friends who said said they were going to go snowmobiling at Mirror Lake. Well narrow it down so someone knows where you are going and what time you will be back."
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The Summit County Board of Health has selected Phil Bondurant to be the Health Department’s next director, opting for continuity rather than a broad candidate search while the department continues to navigate the pandemic and its aftereffects.