MEDFORD, Ore. — “Really that’s what caught us was a big wind burst and it just pushed the car over the side of the road and we just got taken off the edge pretty much in waist-deep snow,” said Alex Smith, an Ashland resident.
A local family was lucky to be alive last December after they were rescued from a remote area near Ashland during a snowstorm.
“Just that kind of drop in your stomach where you’re like, holy cow this could have gotten bad really quickly,” said Smith.
The family of four were only 23 miles from home when a heavy gust of wind hit their car, blowing it off the side of Dead Indian Memorial Road.
“One more turn, I hear that a lot. Well, we thought we could make it one turn and we thought there would be a good place to turn around,” said Sgt. Shawn Richards, Jackson Co. Search and Rescue.
Whether it’s a hunting trip or searching for that perfect Christmas tree, Sgt. Richards says the same mistakes happen every year.
This past weekend, he says about 20 people were rescued out in the woods after snowfall went from 6 inches to a foot and snow drifts caught them off guard.
“It’s that time of year where, you know, we don’t have a lot of snow. So, it kind of baits you to go a little bit further and a little bit further cause you’re making it through the snow and the next thing you know, you’re stuck,” he said.
Before hitting the road, Sgt. Richards says to tell someone your plan.
If you’re heading into the woods, you should be prepared with tools to shovel away snow, bring warm clothes and extra blankets, and food and water.
And to remember GPS, isn’t always your friend.
“They’ll unknowingly hit that route on the shortest route button and it may try to take them on a forest road that is not maintained,” said Sgt. Richards.
Sgt. Richards says one of those problem spots is Ashland’s Colestin Road.
It’s used as a way to bypass closures on I-5.
“Last year, county roads did a us a huge favor and put signs up on both ends of that road. When I -5 is closed it has big flashing yellow lights that says your GPS is wrong don’t go this way and hopefully that will make a difference this year,” he said.
As a reminder, Sgt. Richards says SAR services are free. So, if you find yourself in trouble, call 911.
“Winter is upon us and it is snowing at high elevations. So, we all just have to take a minute to think about what that means to us,” said Sgt. Richards.
If a highway looks closed due to weather conditions, search and rescue crews say don’t try an alternative route you’re not familiar with.
That’s even if your GPS tells you to do so.
Amanda Rose is a multimedia journalist for NBC5 News. Amanda graduated from Columbia University earning a Master’s degree in Journalism. She also received a Bachelor’s degree in English with a specialization in literature from the University of British Columbia.
She’s a Los Angeles native, but is thrilled to return to the beautiful Pacific Northwest and is passionate about reporting on the criminal justice system.