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Avalanche class aims to keep snowmobilers safe

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Nationwide, skiers are most frequently killed in avalanches, according to data from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. But in Idaho, it's snowmobilers who have the highest fatality rate.

Since 1951, 78 people have died in Idaho as the result of avalanches, 40 of which were snowmobilers.

"Generally, you’re not going to get caught in avalanches because you happen to be standing there and it occurs," Matt Lowe, east region training coordinator with Idaho Parks and Recreation, said. "You’re the trigger."

Each year, IDPR hosts an avalanche awareness class to keep people safe. On Friday, the class was aimed at snowmobile safety.

"It’s kind of a staggering statistic that 63% of fatalities would be reduced if only one person was on the hill at a time," Lowe explained of snowmobiling caused avalanches.

During each session, Lowe teaches the class about proper ways to travel, how to read avalanche conditions and the equipment they should have with them - a beacon, probe and shovel - though there’s no legal requirement to carry them.

Lowe said people often won't carry those potentially life-saving items since they don't technically need to. In that case, a person would have to probe for you without having a beacon to guide them to your location, making it much more difficult to recover you during that first 15 minutes after the slide.

"Less than 15 minutes, they have a lot greater chance to survive," Lowe said. "Anything after that, obviously, exponentially less."

In any case, Lowe said you should keep an eye open for rocky outcroppings, areas with lots of blown snow and anywhere that appears to have had a previous avalanche. 

"If you see an avalanche that has occurred and there are similar slopes nearby, stay off of ‘em," he said.

Friday's session was just the first part. Select members of the group will meet on Saturday to get some hands-on experience during the companion rescue.

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