Search and Rescue Teams Put Their Skills, Training To The Test in Big Cottonwood Canyon

Mar 2, 2019, 8:44 PM | Updated: 9:31 pm

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah – Volunteers on Utah’s Search and Rescue teams spend thousands of hours each year on rescue missions. Two teams of those volunteers were up Big Cottonwood Canyon Saturday, putting their skills to the test.

It was part of a required recertification process they have to pass every four years, both in the winter and the summer.

With snow shoes on their feet and heavy loads of rescue equipment on their backs, fourteen search and rescue volunteers headed up in the mountains in search of four victims, supposedly trapped in an avalanche. The rescue was fake, but the winter conditions were very real.

Search and rescue team member, Stephen Smith, said it is harder than it looks.

“The snow is super deep. All your footing is loose all the time and everything requires more effort. Plus we’re carrying all this stuff on our back and we’re having to be concerned with the patient the entire time as well.”

Salt Lake County Search and Rescue Commander, Wayne Bassham, said it’s all part of the job they are there to do.

“We have people that are buried. We have victims. We have medical situations that they will have to attend to. And our job is to locate those individuals in the avalanche and bring them down safely like we would do on any other mission.”

The victims were actors and evaluators came from other search and rescue teams in the region.

They’re part of the Mountain Rescue Association, a group that provides search and rescue at no charge to individuals across north America.

“The hours that it takes to prepare this situation, the hours that it takes to train, and the fact that we can bring closure to people’s families and bring people back to one another… It’s what the MRA is all about,” said Bassham.

He said the MRA spent 126,000 hours on rescue missions in the United States and Canada last year.

Training, testing, and keeping their skills sharp is critical. Last year, the Salt Lake County Search and Rescue team alone spent almost 75 hundred hours on real search and rescue missions.

The volunteers say the test was tough, but it was a success. Commander Wayne Bassham says he’s proud of his team and he considers them family.

“Its nice to know that we have all these volunteers in the state of Utah that are willing to give up their time and their effort to provide services at no charge to the public,” said Bassham.


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Search and Rescue Teams Put Their Skills, Training To The Test in Big Cottonwood Canyon