North Shore fourth-graders learn winter survival skills |

North Shore fourth-graders learn winter survival skills

Justin Broglio
Gianna Miller, 9, and Kylee Kehler, 9, lie in a snow shelter as Ray O'Brien talks about building snow shelters. / Emma Garrard / North Lake Tahoe Bonanza

INCLINE VILLAGE – S.T.O.P. – Stop, think, observe and plan.

“That’s the first thing you do if you got lost in the woods during the winter,” Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue volunteers told a group of Incline Elementary fourth-graders on Thursday.

For about a decade, Tahoe area search and rescue teams have partnered with fire districts around the basin to teach fourth-graders the basics of winter survival, better known as the “Hug-a-tree” program.

The program focuses on teaching kids what to carry when they venture out during winter as well as how to build a shelter, signal rescue crews and ways to stay calm if they become lost, said North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District community safety and education director Tia Rancourt.

“Getting this type of information to kids in our area early on in school is essential,” she said. “They may not be exploring the backcountry right now, but in a few years they might be and if they get in an emergency situation this type of training really pays off.”

Sarah Lagano, a volunteer for Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue, said the Hug-a-tree program is well received.

“We always get a great response from the kids,” Lagano said. “By making it fun the kids remember it and even though there are a lot of different aspects associated with winter survival, the most basic tool is staying calm and staying smart, and the kids know that.”

While fourth-graders played in a snow cave, practiced making a signal “X” in the snow with tree branches and went through possible survival scenarios, Incline Elementary School teacher Steve Wartman admired how seriously the students were taking the program.

“I’m really impressed with how responsive the kids are to this information,” Wartman said. “The kids are talking about what to carry in their pockets when going out during the winter and if something happens they’ll think instead of panic.”

Fourth-graders James Larson, 9, and Remy Dillard, 10, said they learned a lot during the Hug-a-tree presentation and were going to practice building caves in their yards after school.

“It’s cool to figure out all the different ways you can use things from home,” Larson said. “Like a garbage bag. We learned that it can be mattress in your snow cave, it can keep you warm and dry and it’s a very useful thing to have.”

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