Stevens Pass: Ice Axe Arrest Practice - There's Something Unknown In the Snow

At a Snow Skills field trip, two participants (an instructor and and a student) are separately injured by something unknown in the snow.
David Shema David Shema
April 11, 2016

Stevens Pass - March 29

[Field Trip Leader]

There were two separate instances of injury on this Snow FT conducted by the  Alpine Scramble course.

1) An instructor reported an injury to the left side of his ribs. He stated that he was sliding down the hill demonstrating the Head first on his belly ice axe arrest position. He said that he hit something under the snow that caused pain in his rib area. The other instructor in the practice group stated that the rest of the group used the same track/area and experienced no objects under the snow.

The field trip leader walked down the hill with the injured instructor at a slower pace and met the rest of the group at the field trip sign out area.

LEADER's Note: I would like to make it clear that this injury was NOT caused by an ice axe. The injured participant reported the injury near the end of the day at the avy pit demonstration.


2) A student was practicing the last ice axe arrest position (head first on her back), after having successfully completed all other arrest positions. She reported that when planting the axe and progressing through the move she felt pain in her left wrist/elbow area.

The instructors  were not aware of the problem until they noticed a student talking with a fellow student participant. Upon inquiry by the instructors, they learned of the injury. The arm was immobilized with a splint and sling to minimize movement and alleviate pain. It is suspected that the injury was a strain/sprain.

The Field Trip co-leader escorted the injured student down the mountain with the rest of the groups keeping an eye on her.

The field trip leader is following up with both injured parties to find out their condition and next steps for the individuals.

Lessons Learned

[Field Trip Leader]

There is nothing that can or could have been done differently.

[Mountaineers Safety Chair]

The instructors reacted quickly upon learning of the injuries, but there was a delay in reporting them.  The injuries turned out to be minor, but in the backcountry it often is difficult to judge severity.  Delays in reporting an injury could lead to  a worsening situation for the person and the party.

It is important to immediately let others in your party know  if you have suffered any injuries, including "tweaks".  Leaders not only have to ensure an injured participant receives appropriate  treatment, but also need to consider how an injury will affect the group.


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