Snowmachiners practice for the worst with simulated crash course

Published: Dec. 9, 2017 at 5:59 PM AKST
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Whether for travel or recreation, snowmachines are a way of life for many Alaskans, but accidents and backcountry crashes on these vehicles can quickly turn deadly.

On Saturday, a group of 25 snowmachiners put their search and rescue skills to the test, in a hands-on crash simulation organized by Learn to Return, a business that provides survival and first aid training.

Learn to Return director Brian Horner says he usually offers the course to employees in the construction industry or other similar fields. But Saturday’s class was comprised of people who work for events like the Iditarod, Iditasport and Iron Dog, as well as members of search and rescue groups and the Anchorage snowmachine club.

“One of the biggest reasons we’re here is that in the last two years the skills have changed so much in basic first aid,” Horner said. “We are not putting people into shock positions, we are not putting cervical collars on people in the wilderness anymore.”

Without knowing what to expect, the students were brought to the scene of a mock-snowmachine crash on a snow berm just outside the business. Four actors pretended to patients with various injuries, some of them serious. Fake blood and makeup to represent frostbite gave the gruesome scene an unnerving sense of realism.

The students were expected to divide into groups to assess each patient and begin lifesaving measures like wound dressing and CPR. Vikki Gross was charged with rescue base communications, and picking an landing zone for the rescue helicopter.

“It’s chaos,” she said. “It’s very confusing at first and having to be in charge of communication with rescue base, and finding out from all the different groups how they assess their patients or their victims, what do they come up with, what do I tell base in order for them to respond properly.”