Producers of app aim to cut down on backcountry rescues

Published: Dec. 10, 2018 at 4:55 PM EST
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An early start to ski season means an early start for Vermont Search and Rescue busy looking for overdue skiers and other backcountry users. Now, there's a new tool helping explorers get out of the woods.

Mike Irish is an experienced backcountry skier, and he relies entirely on intuition to navigate in the woods.

"I'm prepared to spend the night in the woods. I don't really want to, I like my bed," Irish said. "Honestly, I don't bring any technology with me."

Which, according to the Vermont Department of Public Safety, could cause serious problems. Countless people over the years have taken lifts up at a resort, then skied back down outside the resort's boundaries.

"We kind of refer to it as side-country skiing," said Neil Van Dyke, the state's search and rescue coordinator.

Skiers should bring extra equipment, warm clothes, food, a headlamp, maps, and a compass. And search and rescue has already responded to three incidents this season where skiers were not prepared.

"Whenever you're lost, you want to make sure you're in a situation where you can be found and just wandering aimlessly is the worst thing you can do," said Matt Krebs with the Green Mountain Club.

The GMC recently released a handy tool to keep backcountry explorers safe and on track -- digital, downloadable maps that don't require any cell phone service.

"It has all the features that you would expect normally -- water, roads, shelters, trails," Krebs said. "The digital map has the feature of having your little blue dot, or whatever you want to make it, to see where you're located so that you can reference your location to the features and surroundings around you in order to navigate where you're going."

And Krebs says when used in conjunction with paper maps and a compass, the tool is invaluable. One of the features allows users to save a pin on any spot on the map. "So for example if there's not a piece of information on a map and they're going out exploring off trail, they can add that on the way and save it for future use, because you never know when something could happen," he said.

Green Mountain Club and Public Safety officials say they are always encouraging Vermonters to get outside and enjoy the woods, as long as they stay smart and alert.

"To be safe, I just try to take risks that I'm willing to take and not get over my head in a situation," Irish said.

The Department of Safety says using a combination of tools, especially your phone and a paper map, is key, rather than relying on one or the other. And they say to always avoid venturing out of bounds when it's dark.