Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue, Inc. Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue, Inc.


December 2007

Sloth and Bloat

Thank goodness Thanksgiving has come and gone. Hopefully you were not becalmed in the tryptophan doldrums for too long. In spite of the fact that there is much to be thankful for, I am always relieved when I see the sloth and bloat holiday in the rear view mirror. Up ahead in your personal windshield is the next TNSAR Team meeting. Monday, December 10th, 6:30pm at the Granlibakken hut.


Prior to the general meeting Dirk is hosting the first planning meeting for the 2008 Great Ski Race. The meeting will start at 5:00pm at the Granlibakken hut. Rumor has it that Dirk is supplying pizza for all those who RSVP. No RSVP, no pizza, no exceptions. Please call Dirk to let him know you want pizza. And you want to volunteer for one of the many TGSR committees. 583-2929.

Space is limited

means space is limited. Perhaps I am not the only unfortunate one who missed out on the Winter Sports Injury Symposium held this past week at the Resort at Squaw Creek. Yes, it’s true. When they say that space is limited, they are really saying that space is indeed limited. I waited until the last minute to RSVP and had to suffer with talk show re-runs instead. I even tried the, “…But hey, I’m with the band…” excuse. My loss because word on the street has it that the event was awesome, even surpassing the 2006 symposium. However, all is not lost. Procrastination is not a mortal sin. For an excellent, in depth survey of wilderness medicine check out James A. Wilkerson’s Medicine: For Mountaineering and Other Wilderness Activities. It is simply one of the best medical references and should live on your bookshelf. Put it right next to your personal copy of Snow Sense. Another great reference for backcountry medicine is William W. Forgey’s Wilderness Medicine: Beyond First Aid. Now in its fourth edition, Dr. Forgey’s book is highly recommended for anyone who ventures into realms where evacuation is not really an option. Though we are generally always within radio contact and evacuation is definitely part of our search and rescue modus operandi, we should strive to be prepared for any type of rescue scenario that requires the highest quality backcountry patient care. These books can help. Buy them. Read them. Practice the material. And next year, when you see the Winter Sports Injury Symposium flyer, CALL AND RESERVE A SPOT!


I recently had the great pleasure to be a fly on the wall and overheard two people conversing about the cost of search and rescue operations and the dilemma of who should bear the financial burden of finding lost victims. This is one thorny conundrum and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these guys debate the issue. There are no two ways about it, search and rescue operations can become incredibly costly in an incredibly short amount of time. Hourly rates for helicopters (admittedly one of the greatest SAR assets), for instance, can easily be a thousand dollars or more. In Denali National Park annual charges for the high altitude LAMA helicopter routinely exceed $100,000. (My favorite Denali story was a few years back when a group of climbers had to be plucked off the mountain and then demanded that the helicopter go back up to retrieve their really expensive gear!) Epic rescues on Denali are all too often ‘regular’ events during the climbing season and people often argue that climbers are lulled into a false sense of security knowing that search and rescue personnel are standing by. Even non-high risk park or wilderness visitors can fall prey to this mentality because of the illusion that there is a safety net built into a walk in the woods. “Hey, that’s what the ski patrol is for, right? They already bombed the high traverse, there’s no way it is going to slide…” Not only is the false sense of security built in but the price tag is suspiciously absent. Afterall it is the ski patrol’s job to keep the mountain safe. That is why park rangers go on patrol. If something goes wrong, someone will come and help. And someone will pay for it because that is their responsibility. Or is it? Who is ultimately responsible for the cost? The National Park Service retains the right to charge individuals if they can prove that the actions of the individuals created a hazard. Indeed, read the signs at many ski area boundaries, “…duck the ropes and you may be charged for the rescue…” As we know all too well that is not much of a deterrent and it is a flawed system at best, “….I didn’t see the sign….the wind blew the fence down…” It’s got litigation written all over it. Others argue for an up-front fee system where rescue monies are built into the price of admission. That too is set up for failure because it is inequitable (do bird watchers pay the same as base jumpers?) and implies a certain guarantee that there will in fact be a rescue and care will be provided. Well it may or may not depending on when and if the victim can be found and then treated. Again, it reeks of litigation. In 1999 the National Association for Search and Rescue (NSAR) drafted a National Search and Rescue Plan and addressed the cost issue directly: “The participants agree that SAR services that they provide to persons in danger or distress will be without subsequent cost-recovery from the person(s) assisted.” The caveat here is that the ‘participants’ were federal agencies e.g. department of defense, FCC, NASA, etc. The National Park Service was clearly not a participant, nor were privately owned ski areas who retain the right (though exercising it is another story) to charge for rescue operations. So where does TNSAR fit in? Good question, easy answer; we don’t fit in. Though many of us have opinions, some stronger than others, about whether or not people should be charged for making our beepers sound off in the middle of the night and in the middle of a horrendous snow storm, we are not a fee for service type of organization. That is not the universe that we occupy. Lest we forget, TNSAR’s mission is to conduct fast and safe rescues, and to help educate the public on winter safety. Simple, straightforward, I like it! I think I’ll go volunteer. Oh yes, not to forget. We are an all-volunteer organization. Like many, if not all, SAR outfits, we do this because we like it not because it puts gas in our Hummers. Hard to believe at times, but it’s true. Don’t give me a title, an orange reflective coat, a badge, or an invoice. That’s not what I signed up for. I signed up because I wanted to help, I wanted to learn, and I wanted to be part of a community organization whose purpose was to assist others in need and to teach kids how to live safely in the woods. What did you sign up for? And don’t give me that crap about free beer….

Late night thoughts listening to
December rain on my roof…
----B. Wright

The goal of TNSAR is to conduct fast and safe rescues, and to help educate the public on winter safety. If you would like to help TNSAR in this cause, please use the following PayPal donate link. Thanks!

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