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WMW goes miles up mountain for snowy search and rescue training

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KING COUNTY — Helping a missing hiker on Mt. Si recently is just one of the latest perilous calls King County Search and Rescue has answered this winter and in between the dozens of rescue missions — they only get better.

They took me seven miles up a mountain to a snowy training area near Snoqualmie that allows the team to prepare for — and survive — the worst.

“It’s been really busy for us. Over the weekends, we get that fresh snow. When the first snow hit, we’re burning our guys out because we were doing three or four calls on the weekends,” says Alan LaBissoniere with King County Search and Rescue. But as busy as they are, these men and women still get together to train as often as they can. LaBissoniere continues, “Today’s training is all about our snow safety, avalanche training and how to pass it and get around.”

Most of the King County Search and Rescue teams are made up of volunteers who come from all walks of life. We walked with the crew who were there to train and got a snippet of what they do full time. “I’m a law enforcement officer with the U.S. Forest Service,” said one man.  I’m a homemaker, but I’m a third generation of search and rescue. My grandfather was in search and rescue in New Jersey and my uncle was 17 years search and rescue,” explained Kristin, the only woman there at the time. We also met Dave who said, “I put on the RV show in Seattle.” And Michael, who is an engineer by day, uses his own time and equipment to help others. “It’s my way to give back to the community.”

During the winter months, they can help anyone from stranded motorist to those who find themselves lost on a mountain. LaBissoniere explains, “You get hikers who get stranded in areas where we can get these vehicles in to get them out.”

Recently, King County has added a snowcat to their rescue efforts, and already it has been put to good use. King County Dep. Ed Christian says, “We got a call about two in the afternoon, two subjects who were lost on top of Rattlesnake ridge at 3200 feet.” When help arrived, the two were already in the beginning stages of hypothermia, but thanks to this new tool, it wasn’t any worse. “On that particular call, getting that particular call at 2:00pm, we had the cat on the trail by 3:00pm, had them in the cat a little after 4:00pm, they were back down in the parking lot by 5:00pm. If we had to do that on foot, they might have been down at 2:00am in the morning.”

Part of the training was learning to drive the snowcat and even I got a quick lesson. King County Dep. Pete Linde was in the passenger seat instructing me, “Break with both pulled back. That’s as hard as you pull.” With a top speed of 15 miles an hour, this car cranks out the power and will no doubt come in handy for future rescues.

And for those who spend their days, nights, and weekends on call -- for free – they say the reason to do it is a simple one. Aaron says, “Giving back to the community. There’s nothing like getting a family back together.”

And when asked what we can do for them, they say, just be careful when enjoying the great outdoors and be prepared. LaBissoniere adds, “Tell someone. Don’t go alone. Make sure you have a plan to come out here, if you’re late, supposed to be back by 7:00pm, and you don’t show up, we want somebody to be able to call us and let us know.”

CLICK HERE if you’d like to volunteer to become part of the team, or would like to donate money to help pay for the fuel and maintenance costs the crews incur every mission.