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Marine Corps Formal School instructors of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, Calif., use an untouched slope of snow off their ski path to test for tell-tale signs of potential avalanche occurrence at the Leavitt Lake training area Jan 9.

Photo by Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

Marines trained on dangers of avalanches

9 Jan 2009 | Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

In the James Bond movie “The World is Not Enough,” Bond saves his life and the life of Elektra, his female counterpart, by using a clever ski jacket that inflates into a giant bubble after an avalanche has been triggered on their side of the mountain.

Because the average American couldn’t possibly afford Hollywood-manifested gimmicks and gizmos such as this, a degree of precaution when traversing snow-covered peaks is the next best bet for avoiding a dire avalanche situation.

Formal Marine Corps school instructors of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center learned to do just that in an annual American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education course, or AIARE, at the Leavitt Lake training area Jan. 6 to 9.

The course is divided into three levels; Avalanche Level 1, Avalanche Level 2, and Avalanche Instructor Level 1, and is provided by Alpine Skills International, a civilian contracting company that aims to educate and train those interested in becoming mountain experts, according to the ASI Web site,

Gary Bard, an ASI employee and leader of the AIARE course, said ASI has trained hundreds of instructors across the nation with a notable percentage of those being Marine Corps instructors.

“What we do for the Marine Corps is train the mountain leaders Level 1 Instructor class so they can train their Marines in Avalanche Level 1,” said Bard. “We provided Avalanche Level 2 to the instructors this year. This is so they will know how to move through snowy mountain terrain safely.”

Bard continued, saying mountain leaders who have proper training in maneuvering across unpredictable winter mountain terrain take these following elements into account before walking a path: preparation of the group, size of the unit, weather conditions, terrain observation and elevation

“This way, a leader can ask himself ‘what terrain can I select to travel through safely?’” added Bard.

Sgt. Ed Linsley, a Mountain Leaders Course instructor, said the AIARE training is a vital bit of knowledge to have as an instructor.

“As a mountain leader, we’ll be leading Marines through mountainous terrain and we need to know which slopes will be safe for travel,” said Linsley, a Mount Vernon, Ohio, native.

Linsley continued, explaining the process of the Avalanche Level 1 training involves transceiver searching, digging, probing and medical assistance.

“The course taught us how to dig out an avalanche victim and the proper medical procedures to take once we get them out,” added Linsley. “It’s medical steps that normally include prevention of hypothermia and shock.”

Capt. Patrick E. Kinser, officer-in-charge of MWTC formal schools, has completed the Avalanche Level 2 training and said he believes this type of education is important for all Marines to learn, not just those at MWTC.

“The course is important due to the fact that we often operate in terrain that is prone to avalanche activity,” said Kinser, native of Jonesville, Va., about Marine Corps units. “By learning how to observe, predict and mitigate the chances of avalanche occurrence, we can more effectively increase our ability to kill the enemy.”

Kinser explained terrain that is north-facing or on a degree greater than 20 degrees are examples of landscapes especially prone to avalanches. Having knowledge like this is critical to effective operations in mountainous terrain.

Despite the fact the Marine Corps budget may not be able to afford science fiction creations like anti-gravity belts or anti-avalanche ski jackets, their chances of survival in the instance of an avalanche swell like Donald Trump’s pocket book thanks to training like AIARE.


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