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Snowmobilers at more avalanche risk than skiers, experts say

By Lauren Maschmedt, KTVM Anchor, lmaschmedt@ktvm.com
Published On: Jan 30 2013 01:54:08 PM MST
Updated On: Jan 14 2013 10:17:48 AM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

It doesn't take long for snowmobiling to go from a fun sport to a deadly nightmare.

A Vimeo video of a Utah snowmobiler shows a slide toppling over him and his sled last year.

The rider didn't have all the right equipment, and his friends later admitted their equipment wasn't the best, either.

"He doesn't even have his beacon on!" yells a friend, who's trying to locate the nonexistent beacon signal- and filming the whole, frantic ordeal from a camera attached to his helmet.

It can mean the difference between life or death. The Utah man's friends located and dug him out 20 minutes later, and he survived. But many don't.

"There's kind of a gap in the education- seems like the skiers are a little further ahead of the snowmobile crowd" said Bozeman avalanche educator Quint Gidley.

He teaches a snowmobile avalanche safety course through the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center GNFAC. Gidley said snowmobilers tend to be less prepared for avalanches than skiers or snowboarders, but more at risk.

"You cover so much more ground than you do skiing" he said, "exposing yourself to a lot of different slopes."

He shows his classes what equipment to have, and how to react if a slide is triggered.

The first day of the course is lecture-style, and the second day is a field day. For Sunday's field course, Gidley and the small class gathered at Buck Creek south of Big Sky. They rode out on the trails, and learned how to use their gear in the snow.

"When it comes down to it, a lot of people don't even know how to use them" said John Feuerstein, referring to avalanche equipment like a beacon, probe and shovel.

He said he has all the gear, but wasn't sure he'd be prepared for an avalanche. So he took the GNFAC safety class.

"It's all about getting to know how to use a lot of these beacons and the probes, and about right technique. And how to stay calm" he said.

If what happened in Utah last year happens when Feuerstein goes on a ride, he'll know how to react. The next step is making sure his friends do, too, he said.

Gidley highly recommends snowmobilers take an avalanche course, especially if they plan on crossing over into backcountry territory. He said that way, if something happens, they'll know what to do and how to properly use their equipment.

Click here to learn more about the GNFAC and their avalanche safety courses.

To see the full video on the Utah man who survived being buried alive, click here.