April 7, 2014 | Posted in:Uncategorized

The WFR or “woofer” as it is often referred to, is an idea that I’ve been toying around with for a while. As taking an avalanche class is pretty much accepted practice for anyone who is interested in getting into backcountry skiing or snowboarding (or those of you enjoying the sidecountry at your favorite resort), a WFR is something you hear tossed around the more time you spend outdoors.

Inevitably, if someone in your group has taken a WFR course, conversation will turn to the values of the course at some point in the day. The general consensus is almost always, “I should take one.” It’s talked about the same way people talk about getting CPR certified. Everyone will agree that it is beneficial, but hardly anyone will follow through and take the class unless it is required for their job (summer lifeguarding anyone?).

I’m exactly the same way. I’ve done a lot of talking about how valuable it would be to take a WFR class. I keep saying that I should. Or I will. I never do. “It costs too much” or “I don’t have time”. It’s really easy to make excuses.

The sad reality is that in most of the activities I do, there is a risk of injury and you are seldom close to help. Having the knowledge to understand how to react in case something does happen is one of the main reasons I think getting a WFR is so valuable.

Last weekend, I was climbing with some friends in Eldorado Canyon when a guy in the group next to us took a bad fall. There was a whole crew of us around who rushed over to help in any way we could (which as it turns out, is not much). I did a lot of helplessly standing around watching. Staying quite as the group and injured person worked out a plan. Should we walk out? Should we call for a rescue? Can I afford a rescue? There’s a lot of us here, could we carry him out? Should we carry him out? Even if I can walk, is that a smart idea?

The questions went on, rather than coming up with answers, we just came up with more questions. Everyone was well versed in travelling in the wilderness, but nobody seemed to know what was the right thing to do.

As it turns out, I learned one very valuable thing, and this one is absolutely HUGE:


Of course this varies from area to area, and you should always know what the rules are in your particular location, but the general premise is this: we would rather you call for a rescue and be okay than to not call for a rescue and risk injuring yourself further.

That doesn’t change the fact that performing a rescue is a large operation, the cost will come from somewhere, and takes time for a lot of people (who as far as I am aware, are mostly volunteers). So even if you can call for a rescue, making the call is a BIG decision.  So how do you know when you need one?

Ultimately, we helped the injured climber walk out to his car. And by helped, I mean I gave my friend a belay to climb the route that the injured climber left all of his gear on, and helped carry their gear back to the car. Despite my want to help more, I had no answers to any of the questions and decided the best thing I could do was to stay out of the way and be quiet.

As far as I’m aware, the climber is okay, just a little battered and bruised (okay, maybe a lot bruised). So, that’s a good thing, but the experience really drove home the value of a WFR. Sure, there will be a lot of questions and I think we as a group did a great job of communicating people’s concerns and coming up with a plan that worked out well at the end of the day.  It seems like this type of situation is exactly what a WFR is valuable for.  So, just maybe, the next time something like this happens, which of course I hope it does not, instead of just contributing questions, I will be able to provide answers and have confidence that we are making the right decisions.

I’m still making excuses, cost and time never seem to go away, but I am getting closer to being able to justify the cost and find the time, because taking a WFR is one of the most valuable things I think I could do.

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