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Be a leader, be prepared to survive

Ok, Honey Bee, you're a yellow lab. Did you read the story about Velvet, the black Labrador retriever, who is credited with helping save the lives of three climbers on 11,239-foot Mount Hood?

I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.

Nordic skiing, snowshoeing or being outdoors in the winter with your dog provides that extra bit of safety - an instant heater. Velvet, you're my hero. You helped the stranded climbers get through the night.

The climbers covered up with two sleeping bags, a tarp and the warm dog. They also had radio transmitters and were prepared for an emergency.

That hasn't been the case this winter with other incidents across the West, some of which turned out to be fatal. The people involved were not prepared for traveling or trekking in the winter.

A person who organizes a trip - whether it's a hunting trip or a casual snowshoe adventure a few miles out of town - takes on the responsibility of making sure the whole group is prepared with clothing and equipment.

That person assumes the role as a trip leader, which should not be taken lightly. He or she should have all the bases covered.

If I'm going for a simple scenic drive up in the snowy mountains, you can bet your last bag of M&Ms that I'm not going to have a person come along who is not properly dressed.

If they want to wear Burkies in the car to be comfortable, fine, but they had better have their snow boots and layered winter clothing stashed in the car for an emergency.

Have you ever had to change a flat tire in the winter while in street clothes? It's no fun, and it changes your perspective on winter travel.

The person organizing the trip should always leave detailed travel plans with relatives or friends, including the license plate number and description of the vehicle, and not veer from those plans unless a call is made to the relatives to update the plan.

Call your friends or relatives when you get home. Make sure you have an estimated time of arrival, and if you don't make it, have them call the sheriffs' offices in the counties where the group is traveling.

Every year there are stories about people spending the night out in the mountains unprepared, said Bruce Palmer, an outdoors expert with the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyo.

"Anytime you go anywhere with a group of folks, there's an expedition element," he said.

Palmer jokes that when his family plans a long drive across Wyoming in the winter, his kids show up in shorts.

When he says that they should get their winter clothes, they ask, "Why?"

"It's a different mindset when you get into a car because the anticipation is that there won't be a problem," he said.

Palmer agrees that people become trip leaders when they invite friends on outings.

This may all sound too complicated for a Sunday drive or a simple outing, but that's when bad things happen.

As a trip leader, you're responsible for having your rig in good working condition, a complete tool kit, a first-aid kit and survival gear, including flashlights, extra batteries, a shovel, signal devices such as flares or a mirror, extra winter clothing, wool blankets and sleeping bags and extra food and water.

If you get stuck and have to spend the night, you're responsible for keeping everyone together and looking out for their well being.

Going outdoors, whether you're a Boy Scout leader taking kids backpacking, inviting friends on your raft for a day trip on the Payette River, or a friend taking everybody on a scenic winter drive, you've got to know about survival, first-aid and how to deal with emergencies.

Oh, and it might not be bad to have a couple of dogs along.

Sometimes we're on the ski trail with all three of our dogs, Honey Bee, (a lab); Katie (a golden retriever); and Zoey (a Tibetan spaniel). Hey, Tibet? It gets pretty cold over there in that high country.

Talk about a lot of dog heat in a snow cave or stranded car, wow!

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