There were two teams I was confident had the experience and true desire to win – Backcountry Access and Black Diamond. Back in November BCA’s Bruce Edgerly made that clear when he said, “We’re bringing home the cup.” Team BCA extracted the torso of a lincoln-log dummy buried 90 centimeters deep in bermcrete, a hard chunky mass of refrozen snow, in approximately 4½ minutes. Team BD followed shortly behind at approximately 5 minutes, and the team from MSR took the bronze, yet a minute later.
Ortovox followed quickly behind MSR, while Arva’s team had dug themselves into a hole that didn’t allow easy extraction. Nonetheless, all teams extracted their dummies in less than 10 minutes, which means, theoretically all of the victims might have lived.
Andrew McLean was one of the shovelers for Black Diamond and call the competition, “fun.” He also thinks running 100 milers is fun too.
About 50 spectators cheered on 3-man teams as they frantically chopped, raked and threw snow to get down to the buried logs. A few quick lessons can be gained from looking at the results.
The top three teams clearly had a digging strategy, which seemed to be two men in front chopping into the snow with the third man sweeping the snow behind the front line. The two fastest teams used shovels in hoe mode, not only to sweep the snow back, but to swing at it and break it off. Black Diamond took a moment to rotate positions and may have lost precious time since the winning time was under five minutes, and if they had realized they were that close, might have been better to maintain position. One thing was key, the top three teams had their team members picked more than an hour before the race began. The slower teams were searching last minute to fill their rosters.
The slowest team ended up working as a team, but only after they had boxed themselves into a corner. In the first minute they were shoveling as three independent diggers, without an obvious strategy other than to throw snow. In the end, the faster teams all dug a platform that was easy to roll the dummy out on to. Team Arva dug a deep hole that forced them to lift and throw snow, and restricted their mobility to pull the dummy out.
The obvious lesson is proper planning prevents piss poor performance. So does practice. I don’t think any of the winning teams actually practiced digging together. But they were all familiar with digging strategies, they picked one before the race began, and implemented it. We would all be so wise to discuss rescue options among our touring partners before the need arises.