Since the snow started falling in the higher-elevation areas of Southwest Washington, North Country Emergency Medical Services and its Volcano Rescue Team, which covers the Mount St. Helens area, have been considerably busier, North Country Assistant Chief Tom McDowell said.

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Snow has returned to the region’s mountains, as have winter-activity enthusiasts who get lost or hurt.

Since the snow started falling in the higher-elevation areas of Southwest Washington, North Country Emergency Medical Services and its Volcano Rescue Team, which covers the Mount St. Helens area, have been considerably busier, North Country Assistant Chief Tom McDowell said.

Usually, he said, the snow affects the team’s activities almost all year.

“It’s been a pretty typical issue for years, except the last two (years), and that was because we didn’t have any snowpack,” he said.

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He said they’ve responded to seven calls since mid-December, about when the snow started falling. It might look like just a handful of calls, but that’s a busy season for rescuers, he said.

On one call in late December, someone broke a leg in several places and suffered spinal injuries as well, McDowell said. The call came late at night, and a companion walking out to make the call was fortunate to see rescuers’ snowcat and flag it down.

The person rescued endured a painful two-hour trip while tied to a backboard before he could receive medical aid. If the weather hadn’t been as clear as it was that day, it would have taken longer.

Portland Mountain Rescue, which covers Mount Hood in Oregon, sees a fairly consistent level of activity regardless of the weather, spokesman Mark Morford said, but the group is back helping find lost skiers and dealing with other winter weather mishaps this season.

“Last year was such an aberration, it’s hard to say what’s normal,” Morford said. “I would say this year has felt more normal to us, so far.”

Mount Hood Skibowl ski resort was open for 11 days last season, as was the Hoodoo ski area east of Eugene, Ore. Mount Hood Meadows, where a normal season lasts 140 to 150 days, had a 118-day season last year.

Meadows’ website said the slopes have seen 216 inches of snow so far this season, and Timberline’s website reported 334 inches of snow.

Usually, Morford said, the volunteer group sees a fair amount of activity — from December to March, roughly — helping skiers and snowshoers in need.

“We had novices climbing the mountain last year, in the winter, which is really unusual,” he said, and not very bright.

Last winter, low snowpack led to the formation of gas caves, or fumaroles, in the snow, and a few climbers fell in, leaving them and searchers at risk of exposure to toxic gasses.

Morford said the organization often has members out and about in case of a call. He said all of the group’s volunteers are avid outdoors recreationists, and they’re all happy to work in the snow again.

McDowell said the search-and-rescue operations don’t really have a “down” season; they’re staffed year-round, just ready for different needs, whether it’s for motorists who are overconfident about their vehicles’ ability in the snow or injured hikers.

Everyone else is waiting for sunshine or snowfall, he said, joking. “We’re waiting for the clouds to come in, so we don’t have to go up and rescue somebody.”

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