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Avalanche seminar an education for snowmobilers

Around 120 people attended a free avalanche seminar in Dickinson at Platinum Motorsports on Friday evening. The event was given by avalanche expert Mike Duffy. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)

North Dakota may seem like an unlikely place to have an avalanche seminar, but for 120 people in Dickinson, it was interesting and informative way to spend a Friday night.

Platinum Motorsports housed snowmobile enthusiasts interested in learning more about avalanche conditions, equipment and how to avoid being trapped in an avalanche.

"We just want to educate people," said Amanda Akovenko from Platinum Motorsports. "There are a lot of people in this area that ride in Wyoming and Montana."

John Schnaidt, owner of Platinum Motorsports, said they were on a two-year waiting list to have the program taught by Mike Duffy, a professional avalanche educator from Colorado.

Duffy is in his 23rd season teaching the class and has been doing mountain rescue for 25 years.

He said education equals better decisions and that bringing avalanche education to people is important.

"When they are on vacation, they are less likely to take the classes so we bring the classes to them and make it easy for them to get started on the education," he said.

Schnaidt said the middle of October is perfect timing for a course.

"It's an awesome benefit to do it before they are even out there," he said. "Right now is a perfect time because no one is snowmobiling yet until probably mid-December. Now they can train with their beacons, their packs, their probes."

Jay Lutes, a longtime snowmobiler from Bowman, plans on taking a snowmobiling trip around that time and said he was interested in the course to gain more knowledge, and learn more about search and rescue.

"You can never know too much about safety or how to use the tools," Lutes said.

While Lutes said he has never been caught in an avalanche because his group tends to stay away from avalanche-prone areas, he said it's still important to know what to do before it happens.

During the course, Duffy detailed what happens to people who are trapped under an avalanche.

He said within three to five minutes, the person usually passes out so having someone there to dig them out is crucial so they don't die from asphyxiation.

Nevada Crimmins from Dickinson said he's been in three avalanche situations so far and in 2014 he helped pull a man out of the snow after an avalanche.

"We had to dig him out and he was dead when we dug him out, and did CPR on him and stuff and brought him back," Crimmins said.

While it hasn't stopped him from snowmobiling, he said his group looked at things a little differently after that.

Duffy said getting the information, learning new things and changing some of the things snowmobilers do is what will keep accidents from occurring.

Ski-Doo, a brand of snowmobiles, paid for the event and the cost of bringing an avalanche expert to educate as many people as possible.

Levi Strong, district sales manager for Bombardier Recreation Products and Vehicles, said Ski-Doo picks vendor locations by where it will impact the most people and there have never been trainings.

"If riders are not well-educated in what areas are considered high danger, as well as what triggers an avalanche, they are putting themselves into danger," he said. "The idea of the avalanche courses is to educate the (mountain) snowmobilers to help protect themselves and their group."

Dickinson's Levi Hammond, 36, passed away earlier this year when he was caught in an avalanche in Wyoming. He was one of 28 people who died in avalanches last winter in the United States.

Duffy said avalanche deaths are caused by a combination of people not deploying their snowmobile avalanche airbags, recreating in high or considerable danger areas and snowmobilers triggering avalanches that affect other riders.

He said one of the most important things people should know is "don't try to outrun an avalanche."

Snow can can travel at more than 100 mph in an avalanche and people caught under one are usually buried three feet deep.

"To dig down three feet, you have to move 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of avalanche debris," Duffy told the class. "That's one reason I wear an airbag, because you deploy the airbag you have a 98 percent chance of being on the surface or having something visible."

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