You see it every winter: skiers going off trails and the search and rescue efforts that follow. Over a 34-year career in Vermont Search and Rescue, Neil Van Dyke has pretty much seen it all, what works and what doesn't.
"Some people just don't give up very easily," Van Dyke said. "Lack of knowledge of the area is probably the single biggest factor."
Van Dyke is the state's new search and rescue coordinator, a job created by lawmakers last year.
"I think we're seeing a more rapid response to people that are lost," Van Dyke said.
His job is largely the result of the tragic death of Levi Duclos in January 2011. The 19-year-old died of hypothermia after becoming inured hiking on a trail in Ripton. Though state police responded to a call from his family that night, it wasn't until the next morning that a search began and by then it was too late.
Carrying the right emergency equipment is certainly key to survival, but Van Dyke also has other tips for the hapless hiker or skier. Number 1-- what may seem obvious-- try to retrace your tracks in the snow.
"We had a multiday search in Jay Peak a number of years ago that went on for several days in subzero temperatures and people said when it was all over that they had considered doing that, but they felt it was going to take them as long as three hours to hike back up to Jay Peak. Well, it took us three days to find them," Van Dyke said.
While many people have cellphones, Van Dyke says by the end of a long day they're often running out of juice.
"So, great idea to bring a phone, but keep it off until you need it and then hope you have coverage," Van Dyke said. "Keep it warm, right. Keep it in your coat, under your insulating layers definitely makes sense."
If you can't follow your tracks, he says it's probably best to stay put.
"If you really have no clue where you are and it's getting late in the day, it would be a perfectly good strategy-- and probably a recommended one-- to stay where you are," Van Dyke advised.
Building a fire is a bonus, not only for the warmth but as a psychological boost. If not, physical activity will have to do, like in the case of some lost cross-country skiers.
"They were doing jumping jacks every half-hour just to keep their circulation going and keeping their body heat going," Van Dyke said.
Van Dyke says building some kind of insulated shelter for the night out of branches or snow can make all the difference. Authorities say it was smart thinking last month that helped save a family of six in Nevada after their car crashed and they were stranded for two days in the wilderness. Although similar situations are rare in the East, Van Dyke says some basics apply.
"The rule of thumb is to stay with your vehicle," he said. "It's a source of shelter. You can run the heater for a while and turn it off to save gas. Make sure that the tailpipe is clear so you're not building up carbon monoxide."
If injured on the trail, Van Dyke says you either need to suck it up and keep going or find shelter.
"Even if you have to crawl to it," he said. "But again, staying as close to the trail if you can and if you leave the trail, leaving something at the trail, where you leave it, that can be identified. So leaving a hiking pole or something that would indicate if a searcher were to walk by."
In all scenarios, keeping a cool, positive attitude can often be the difference between life and death.
"What often happens is there becomes this rising sense of panic which leads to often irrational behavior," Van Dyke explained. "If people can combat that natural tendency and really think the situation through... "
Survival concepts to keep in mind in this frigid winter weather.
Last year was a record for out-of-bounds ski rescues. But with so little snow this winter, authorities say that is likely keeping a lot of skiers out of the backcountry.
Saturday, March 8 2014 8:07 PM EST2014-03-09 01:07:08 GMT
A rally at the State House in Montpelier Saturday. A passionate group of dozens of women, and men, assembled in front of the State House Saturday for the Women's March for Dignity. They were demandingMore >>
Women's March for Dignity say they are demanding lawmakers support paid sick day policies for all workers.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:21 AM EST2014-03-08 15:21:27 GMT
Two firefighters are recovering from minor injuries. They were injured while fighting a at the Bennett Farm on Route 15 on the Johnson-Cambridge town line. The fire started in a shed around 7:30 FridayMore >>
Two firefighters are recovering from minor injuries.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:20 AM EST2014-03-08 15:20:42 GMT
Friends are rallying around families who lost everything in an apartment building fire in St. Johnsbury. They immediately took to Facebook after hearing about this fire and started planning to collectMore >>
Friends are rallying around families who lost everything in an apartment building fire in St. Johnsbury.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:20 AM EST2014-03-08 15:20:05 GMT
Reporter: "What are some of the most common burn injuries that we see with kids coming into the hospital?" Jim Esdon, Dartmouth Hitchcock Injury Prevention Center: "This time of year, the glass frontedMore >>
We've had another cold week that's left homeowners cranking the heat. But what does that mean for kids' safety?More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:19 AM EST2014-03-08 15:19:21 GMT
Armed with just two L rods, 87-year-old John Wayne Blassingame starts looking for water by asking yes or no questions. "Does it go past 20 feet, does it go past 30 feet, yah," he says. The rods crossingMore >>
A national organization based in Danville says it is providing resources to people in desperate need to find water.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 8:31 AM EST2014-03-08 13:31:36 GMT
The Governor is traveling to Rhode Island Saturday. His office says Governor Peter Shumlin will be at Brown University in Providence taking part in a forum with the Rhode Island Governor. While theMore >>
The Governor is traveling to Rhode Island Saturday. More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 8:17 AM EST2014-03-08 13:17:30 GMT
We have some ideas for your Saturday. IRISH FESTIVAL The 19th annual Burlington Irish Heritage Festival kicks off today. There is a lecture about the role of Irish immigrants in the Civil War at theMore >>