Since the start of this year’s ski season 52 people have called 9-1-1 after getting lost at Killington. A bill that would have fined those skiers and riders who intentionally go out of bounds at ski resorts died in committee last month.
Ski resorts have been trying to increase awareness of the dangers of skiing out of bounds but have had little success.
Meanwhile, a group of local back-country ski enthusiasts recently formed Killington Search and Rescue to help.
It’s after 6pm, and nearly dark as members of Killington Search and Rescue grab snowshoes, head lamps, and other gear for a mock rescue.
"So this is the Chittenden Reservoir – so we’re at the Chittenden Dam right now – has everybody been here before? No? Yes?" asks Dan Trigg, an emergency room technician and former Killington Ski Patroller, who set up tonight’s training. "So the scenario is there’s s 28-year-old female who called 9-1-1 at 5:11 pm to report that she was lost cold and injured, those are her exact words."
Trigg fills in some other details and explains that the cross-country ski trail the woman was on splits nearby in two directions.
Dave Coppock knows the area well and suggests they divide into teams. "Let’s say Nate and I go together and Murray and Ben go together? And Bob’s going to stay here. Can I just make sure we’re talking about the same place before we go? I would feel better myself – so when we look at the map right here"
Coppock goes over the map one more time with everyone. A fifty-something carpenter from Rutland, Coppock joined Killington Search and Rescue last spring shortly after the group was founded.
"I, over the years, have developed a lot of skills with bushwacking in the woods, back-country skiing," relates Coppock. "I know the geography of Vermont and especially this area very well. And I feel like, you know, there are folks getting lost in the woods and they need help – and I have the skills to help. And I just thought it would be really cool to be able to apply what I love to do to something useful."
Members say the training has been especially good. KSAR has one to two mandatory workshops a month, covering everything from wilderness first aid, group search techniques and navigation skills, to canine search and rescue.
"This is canine Mitch – he’s a retired state police search and rescue dog and he’s going to help us tonight if we need him," says KSAR’s founder Bob Giolito. He’s a former state trooper who also worked as a ski patroller. Giolito says many in the group have helped with local rescues for years, but now they’re more organized and better trained.
He says the team won’t be called every time a skier or rider goes missing. But when local fire departments or law enforcement agencies need help, Giolito says KSAR’s available. "We have fresh ski tracks right here. We’ll be team one and you guys are team two – we can see if Mitch picks up something – we’ll run a box. . . . let’s go – this has got to be it. . . . good boy. . . . dog runs up the hill.This is team one, we found the victim up here."
Once they find their lost skier, Giolito watches to see that team members correctly identify and treat her injuries and then get her back to safety.
Last fall KSAR helped in the real search and rescue of 6- year old Jo Jo McCray who became lost while hunting with his family in Sunderland.
In that kind of real-life emergency, Giolito says training is key, which is why exercises like this one are so important. "Nice work everybody. "We’ll just do a quick debrief. . . I’ll start – let’s talk first with our victim – did they correctly get all your injuries?"
KSAR is one of at least a half dozen volunteer search and rescue organizations in Vermont and state law enforcement officials say they’re vital in emergencies.
The newly formed Killington group has 18 members and is funded primarily with donations though Giolito hopes to begin applying for grants this year.
KSAR members say the camaraderie of the group is fun, but many also admit it’s comforting to know that if they get hurt while skiing or ice climbing, there are well-trained people in the area who can help.
"So good, I have nothing else to add," says Giolito. I thought you did awesome for a nice after-work quick training. . . . So who’s buying the beer? – Yeah, that’s key, that’s the other part of the debrief."