Survival Training For Snow Surveyors

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(Reno, NV)
Saturday, January 20, 2007


The U-S Natural Resources Conservation Service has run this week long class since the 1950s, and this year, three dozen snow surveyors from across the Western U-S have gathered at the Grandlibakken resort near Tahoe City for  survival training.  Gary Schafer coordinates the school.  


Two emphasis we concentrate on is of course, survival in the snow, survival in the cold, country and environment that we put our employees out in.  he other major emphasis is of course because it is the snow survey school, is how to collect that data and bring it back …    


Indoor lectures on avalanche safety, first aid and the science of snow sampling culminate in a real world outdoor test for the surveyors. They must build a snow cave. And it better be good because they have to spend the night in it.


About 150 yards from the Resort, small but growing mounds of snow are emerging among the Ponderosa pines. It’s finals day. The students are piling the snow high and wide so it can be hollowed out and used as a shelter.  Megan Lavely isa soil conservationist with the NRCS in Delta Junction Alaska .  She’s been shoveling for a half-hour …


Well, I got a long ways to go … I got about a three foot high mound there … and my goal is to get another couple feet on top so that I’ll be able to sit up in there … so I gotta get some more diameter around it so it’s wide enough for my body … so … I still got a lot of work ahead of me …


Specific survial techniques aside.  According to Jason Bradshaw, an experienced snow surveyor from southern Utah , the biggest challenge for those stuck in the wilderness is psychological.


Mental attitude is a big part of this course … we’ve had several courses today that talk about, ‘take care of yourself first … control your thoughts … get things together … make sure you have food, shelter, water … provide some heat for you … and make a plan to escape.’


Wandering around this new cave village is Jim Scarborough of the California Department of Water Resources. He’s already completed his cave and is helping others.  Scarborough is water master on the upper Feather River and hopes to never use the training.


We travel in a snow cat sometimes up to six hours to peaks … so if that snow cat breaks down … we’re gonna be staying the night … 


It’s four hours later and a visibly tired Megan Lavely is ready to settle down for the evening. She’s been shoveling and tunneling nonstop.


I’m inside my snow cave … I got the length right so it’ll be nice and comfortable for me to sleep tonight … I got the ceilings high enough so I can sit up inside of it.


Lavely’s body heat can maintain a temperature in the low 30s inside the snow cave, even with sub-zero weather outside.


I do have a tendency to get a little claustrophobic at times … but when it comes right down to it … you just gotta think that this is the structure that’s gonna save my life … and that’s going to over rule any claustrophobia or anything like that …


The data collected by Lavely and other surveyors helps to determine regional water supplies.  It’s vital information because the majority of the water supply in the West comes from snow run-off.  But for the men and women who gather the data, it’s all about survival.  And thanks in part to this annual class no NRCS surveyors have lost their lives while gathering snow samples.


Brian Bahouth KXJZ News.