The Last Word on First Aid

| June 4, 2008

First Aid and CPR classes are like classic literature—everyone agrees they are great, wonderful and important, yet few people have actually made it all they way through them.  Skiers are optimists and the chances of ever actually having to perform CPR or First Aid are remote, which makes it easy to blow the classes off.  However, the real importance of CPR and First Aid classes is not so much in learning the mechanics of chest compressions and how to bandage a severed stump, but more that the classes force you to think about emergency situations in advance, so that when accidents do happen, you can provide aid with increased confidence.  You’ve seen it before, thought about it, been tested on it and even if you forgot most of it, the increased confidence and calm will be invaluable.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is most often associated with heart attack victims where it is marginally successful.  In terms of ski mountaineering, where CPR really shines is in resuscitating avalanche burial victims and restarting a person’s heart after a lightning strike.  Remember, a person is not dead until he is warm and dead and CPR is perfect for these two situations.  Don’t give up on them.

Mark Holbrook looks at Conrad Anker's head injuries.
Mark Holbrook wondering what to do about Conrad Anker’s head injuries after a massive avalanche accident.  In the end, the wounds were cleaned, bandaged and wrapped.  Conrad was able to walk out on his own.  Tibet – 1999

When it comes to First Aid in the mountains, one of the best things to know is that you can’t really do much aside from stop the bleeding, make the patient comfortable and know when/if it is safe to transport them.  Backcountry appendectomies rarely turn out well and are best left to doctors in operating rooms.  The key to backcountry medical emergencies is to not make them worse than they already are.

Backcountry First Aid is a matter of improvising.  With all of your ski gear available for splinting and clothes which can be cut up in an emergency, you have almost everything you need to deal with injuries.  Along with the knowledge of how to use it, a small First Aid kit with bandages, gauze and the absolute bare essentials is all you really need.

15% off on 1st Aid Kits from

The Adventure Medical Pocket Medic is all I usually carry for a day of backcountry skiing.

Adventure Medical Pocket Medic 

For expeditions, I carry something like the Adventure Medical Traveler First Aid Kit.

 Adventure Medical Traveler First Aid Kit


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Category: 12 Staying Healthy

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (2)

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  1. Polly says:

    Nice blog! I like the links.

  2. Nice blog but i’m having some minor problems with the design in Opera Browser, maybe i should change Browser!

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