Search and Rescue crews from across Utah gather for re-certification on their winter training

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah -- Search and Rescue crews from all across Utah gathered Saturday for re-certification on their winter training.

Two teams of 20 exercised skills during avalanche scenarios in real-time out in the backcountry to practice for the real rescue.

“You need to be prepared 100 percent when you go back because you never know, Mother Nature may throw you a twist,” said Wayne Bassham, Team Commander with Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue. 

Bassham is a part of the Mountain Rescue Association which requires winter and summer certification every four years.

Volunteer crews create anchors in the snow to practice supporting themselves without any trees around. 

Self-arrest tests are performed by rescuers sliding down hills—feet first—using their ice ax to stop their fall. Then crews go down the hills head first.

“It takes years of practice,” said Bassham. “It takes an incredible amount of teamwork for your team to understand and trust each team member on what you’re doing on every one of these missions.”

Eli Whitman, the Climb Team co-commander with Weber County Search and Rescue, said a lot of their rescues come because people don’t have the proper equipment or know how to use it.

“It’s important to check the avalanche conditions,” said Whitman. “It’s important to know who your friends are and that they’re proficient with avalanche work.”

Working for a small window of emergency, a call that could come in at any time—even in the middle of training. 

Putting their practice to the test, crews responded out to a real incident—a skier with a leg injury.

“The fact that we go out and rescue people and we bring closure to families or a happy ending—that is something you could never experience unless you are part of this organization,” said Bassham. 

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