Health Science Connection for Secondary & Post-Secondary Educators

The Area Health Education Center, Office of Public Instruction and Department of Public Health and Human Services have formed a partnership to achieve a healthier Montana by pursuing the goals and strategies described in the state health improvement plan and to build a public health and health care system that supports these goals. Join us as we highlight health priorities, careers in public health, and offer activities for the classroom to reinforce these goals. A healthy population is essential to a healthy economy. Let's build a healthier Montana together!

Winter Public Health 


There are a variety of issues that effect our health during the winter months. These issues may include the weather and its effects on the body, injuries during winter recreational activities, traveling during hazardous conditions, and many other complications. This newsletter focuses on all of the mentioned aspects, because we understand that health is an overall entity.


"People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy."

-  Anton Chekhov


Winter Driving - Easy Does It Montana!


Nearly 70,000 miles of roads are open to public travel in Montana. The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is responsible for maintaining over 10,800 miles of highway and about 2,100 bridges. We need to make sure that these roads are safely traveled.

Here is a short checklist for driving in the winter in Montana:
  • Read the Winter Survival Guide
  • Allow extra time to get to your destination.
  • Clean off your car. Keep windows, mirrors and lights clear of snow and ice.
  • Always buckle up.
  • Slow down in poor visibility conditions.
  • Maintain a safe distance behind other vehicles.
  • Expect ice on bridges and in shady spots.
  • Don't pass snowplows or spreaders unless it's absolutely necessary.
  • Prepare your vehicle for winter driving at the start of the season.
  • Check to be sure all four tires are in good condition.
  • Don't wait until the last minute to get snow tires mounted.
  • Keep an emergency travel kit in your car.

Our snowplows are on the road for your safety. When you encounter a snowplow, remember:

  • Plows travel slowly, usually 25-30 miles per hour. If you have to pass, keep in mind the snowplow driver may have a difficult time seeing you, especially while clearing the road ahead.
  • Never pass a plow on the right. Some snowplows are equipped with a wing plow - an eight foot extension off the right side of the truck.
  • Plows aren't just removing snow. They may also be spreading sand or deicer on the road. Maintain a safe distance behind the snowplow to avoid being sprayed.
What to do if you're trapped in a car while in a snowstorm:

Getting trapped in a blizzard can be life threatening, please use these tips in order to avoid problems while in a blizzard:
  • Gas up. Always drive with a nearly full gas tank in case travel slows to a crawl or you get stranded.
  • Have an emergency kit. Keep these essentials in your car throughout the winter season: Blankets, pillows, extra warm clothing, non-perishable food and snacks, water, flashlight with spare batteries, a few doses of any essential prescription medications, a first aid kit, hand-warmers, whistle, snow shovel, ice scraper and jumper cables. (Yes, this list may be long but if you find yourself in the lurch you'll be glad you went to the trouble.)
  • Charge your phone. Keep your cellphone charged in case you need it to call for help. Keep phone use to a minimum to conserve batteries.
  • Be visible. If you're stuck in the snow, tie something brightly colored onto your antenna. This is a common way to signal that you need help. You can also blow that whistle from your emergency kit.
  • Stay in the car. It may be cold and claustrophobic, but ultimately it's safer than being outside exposed to the elements in a winter storm.
  • Check the tailpipe. This is a simple way avoid a deadly buildup of carbon monoxide in the car if you're sitting with the engine running. You should also crack open the back window slightly, which will keep fresh air circulating and prevent poisoning.
  • Run the engine intermittently. Run your engine for 10 to 15 minutes every hour to keep the car sufficiently warm and also melt some of the ice and snow.
  • Leave the dome light on. This will allow you to see inside the car, and also help people find you if search and rescue teams are out looking for folks who need help.
  • Keep moving. It's important to avoid frostbite so try to keep up your circulation by moving your fingers and toes and changing your seated position frequently.
  • Share body heat. If you're in the car with other passengers, huddle together to keep warm.
  • Stay in your car until the snow stops and weather conditions improve. It may feel like an eternity, but if you plan ahead with emergency supplies and prepare for the worst, you'll have the best chance of getting through it.
Firger, J. (2014). What to do if you're trapped in a car in a snowstorm | | Z7 | Bozeman, Montana. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Nov. 2014].

MDT Web Administrators. (2014). Winter Driving. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Nov. 2014]., (2014). How To Drive Safely In Hazardous Conditions - How to Guides at The DMV Made Simple. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Nov. 2014].

"Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face."


-  Victor hugo


Backcountry Safety - Altitude sickness, Hypothermia, etc.


Being active in the backcountry can be adventurous yet serious because there are a lot of responsibilities if something goes wrong and you are alone. You must be responsible for your actions and safety.

Backcountry skiing or snowboarding is the best way to sample endless untracked powder-but when things get hairy, you can't look to a ski patroller for help. People get hurt, break equipment, or get hypothermia, and without the right gear, the situation can escalate quickly. Before every trip to the backcountry, spend a few minutes to check for these basic items. 

  • Beacon
  • Shovel
  • Probe
  • Snow Saw
  • Water
  • Food
  • Down Layer
  • Hard Shell
  • Headlamp
  • Lighter
  • Sunglasses
  • First-Aid Kit
  • Skins
  • Helmet
  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Extra Batteries
  • Duct Tape
  • Strap

One of the most common issues that arise while playing in the backcountry is acute mountain sickness (AMS). It is the first stage in illness associated with the brain. The symptoms usually appear within 6-10 hour but can appear as little as one hour. Since signs are nonspecific its can be difficult to access AMS, the signs and symptoms could also indicate dehydration, infection, hypothermia, hangover, drug overdose, or carbon monoxide poisoning-but if the patient recently arrived at 8,000 feet or more AMS should be your first guess!

  • Signs and symptoms are headaches, loss of appetite with nausea and vomiting, insomnia, and being unusually fatigued with dizziness. Swelling of the face, hands or feet (peripheral edema) may or may not accompany AMS and a patient may show signs of swelling without showing any other significant signs or symptoms of AMS.
Hypothermia is another risk when traveling throughout the backcountry. It is caused by rapid loss of body heat, and is the most dangerous illness of backcountry travel. Hypothermia can occur even in the warm summer months. Symptoms of hypothermia include: apathy, confusion, drowsiness, loss of coordination, pale or cold skin, uncontrollable shivering, shock, slurred speech, and weakness. To prevent hypothermia, wear non-cotton clothing in layers including a waterproof outer layer to adjust to changing weather and temperatures. To treat hypothermia get the victim out of the wind and any wet clothing they may be wearing. Because skin-to-skin contact can quickly warm somebody back up again, place the victim in a dry sleeping bag then have one or two heat donors surround the victim. When fit for travel, carry or help the victim walk out and get medical attention as soon as possible.

Backcountry Safety Tips: Sequoia National forest. (2014). 1st ed. [PDF] Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), p.1. Available at: [Accessed 21 Nov. 2014].

Dirt barbies, (2014). Backcountry Wilderness Tips. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Nov. 2014]. 

Krueger, R. (2014). Pack Smart. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Nov. 2014].


Avalanche Safety


Weak layers of snow that creates avalanches can form in December and last throughout the season, so don't assume that a lack of snowfall will always mean low avalanche conditions

  • When you dig a pit to examine the snowpack, try to choose a spot with the same aspect, orientation and sunlight exposure as the slope you will be skiing down. Look for weak layers and layers of surface hoar. Learn how to test the snowpack for stability by using a shovel compression test.
  • If you need to travel across an avalanche prone slope; do this 1 person at a time. If an avalanche does occur, you will have several people looking for 1 person - rather than have 1 person looking for several people.
  • Always wear an avalanche beacon when you are traveling in avalanche territory. Be sure to carry a shovel and probe as well. Make sure you know how to use all of this safety equipment and make sure it is easily accessible in your pack. Avoid bringing anyone into an avalanche danger zone with you that doesn't have ALL of this equipment.
  • Concave slopes are safer than convex slopes. A convex slope curves like a dome and is highest in the middle. A concave slope is shaped more like a bowl. The natural force of gravity on a concave slope can help to hold a snow slab in place.
  • Most people who die in avalanches do not die from carbon monoxide poisoning or asphyxiation. The majority of these unfortunate skiers and riders die from trauma and internal injuries that are sustained while being swept down the slope by an avalanche. Consider this when judging the avalanche danger of a particular slope. Ask yourself what will happen to you if there is an avalanche? Will you be swept down a rock-free 35 degree pitch, or will you be sent through a series of pine trees, rock gardens, and then off of a 200 foot cliff?
  • Trees can help to make a slope safer by holding the snowpack in place. If there is an avalanche, it is less likely to grow and become devastating. Don't take this advice in an absolute fashion; you can still have a deadly avalanche on a slope that has trees scattered heavily. However, the presence of trees rather than an avalanche slide path can also hint that a slope may be relatively safe. Look for pine trees that have low branches running through the weak snow layers; these are what can help to stabilize the slope. Bare trees with little or no fauna will not significantly decrease the avalanche risk of a slope.
  • Choose your route up the mountain just as carefully as you choose your route down. Your exposure to the slope will be even longer on the way up and the danger of avalanches should be a priority in your ascent choice., (2014). Education. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Nov. 2014].
Please find free PDF curriculums and handouts about winter storms and severe weather from the Washington Military Department: Emergency Management Division here - 

NOVATeachers, by PBS, has a list of curriculum ideas from teachers around the nation regarding avalanches -

alling all college students interested in health professions!


Whether you are already in a health science program of study or still considering your options, joining a post-secondary HOSA chapter will allow you to explore careers in health through competitive events, job shadowing and educational symposiums with medical professionals.


College students who join HOSA will also receive FREE membership to the National Rural Health Association, courtesy of the MT Office of Rural Health!


And if that's not enough, HOSA also offers scholarships for school and opportunities to prepare for the MCAT or NCLEX Exams.


There are 57 diffierent competitive events to compete in at State and National Leadership Conferences. You can even compete in Epidemiology, Public Health, Healthy Lifestyles, or CERT skills.


Find out more about Montana HOSA: CLICK HERE


REACH is an acronym for Research and Explore Awesome Careers in Health. The regional AHECs set up a partnership between local hospitals and high schools to provide students the opportunity to visit their local hospital and participate in hands-on activities in a variety of departments.


Please contact me in order to see what we events we have going on for REACH in the future! Renee Harris - 


MDT's winter survival guide is available online and is a great resource for Montanans of all ages -


There is an Emergency First Responder course hosted by Aerie Backcountry Medicine in Bozeman on February 21-22, 2015. See the course information here -


Other options for Wilderness First Responder courses can be found here -


Avaluanch Festival, "a social and environmental campaign celebrating live music, film and snow while providing avalanche awareness and environmental stewardship within the snowriding community," will be held in Cooke City, MT on April 18th and 19th, 2015. See more information here - 


The book SAS Mountain & Arctic Survival (Skyhorse Publishing, $15) by former British Special Air Service soldier Barry Davies, covers all types of survival skills from the outlook of an 18 year veteran and is perfect for those traveling Montana's mountain ranges.

In This Issue
Prevention and Public Health Fund
Backcountry Safety
Mountain Day

December 11, 2014
Trapper Peak, Bitterroot Mountains, Montana


The 11th of December is International Mountain Day! Get on the mountain and take advantage of what Montana has to offer! Be safe out there!
Quick Links

Please contact us with your comments, ideas, questions or projects you'd like to see highlighted in future issues of this e-newsletter. And thank you for the work you do every day to inspire and support public health initiatives and health care in Montana!


Renee Harris
Montana Area Health Education Center (AHEC)