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By DeAnne Gallegos

This October, Silverton Medical Rescue will host the 6th annual International Mountain Medicine Symposium. The Symposium was created to “promote excellence through high-quality education for medical rescuers tasked with rescue techniques and patient care in austere mountain environments.” At 9,318 feet above sea level and higher, Silverton and the San Juan Mountain range provide the perfect outdoor classroom for teaching those in the medical or search-and-rescue field how to treat patients in the backcountry.

The Symposium is conducted by Silverton Medical Rescue (a hybrid of the local Silverton emergency medical services and San Juan County Search and Rescue teams), Silverton Avalanche School, Mountain Medicine Institute, LLC, and the University of New Mexico, School of Emergency Medicine Diploma in Mountain Medicine program. Experts from these organizations “have teamed up to provide state-of-the-art medical education, the latest in mountain medicine, alpine rescue, and high-end avalanche awareness and education in one seminar,” according to the Symposium’s website.

This impressive collaboration started in 2013 with Kimmet Holland, director of Silverton San Juan County Ambulance Association.

“Early on, we decided we could put on a conference here for a couple of reasons,” Holland reflected. “First, we could never afford to send our own people to a conference to get continued education, so we thought we could host something ourselves that everybody could attend. We also started developing a close relationship with the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine, which started the first International Mountain Medicine Center in the United States.”

Holland explained that the International Mountain Medicine Center initially launched in Europe and focuses on teaching outdoor skills to paramedics, nurses, doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. To address treating patients in the wilderness, Holland and Symposium partners initially conducted an Advanced Wilderness Life Support class taught by an emergency physician from New Zealand. That wilderness medicine course planted the seed, and the Mountain Medicine Symposium sprouted from there. The event has since evolved into a highly successful and well-attended symposium that utilizes the thin air and passionate community of Silverton’s high-alpine setting.

The 6th Annual International Mountain Medicine Symposium will take place in Silverton from October 4 through October 6, 2024. Seminars will feature cutting-edge knowledge presented by the field’s most renowned experts. A mix of presentations and field instruction will introduce mountain medical topics and opportunities to practice rescue techniques. Teaching how to provide medical care in the wilderness is the primary focus of the gathering.

Under the direction of Holland and Tyler George, executive director of the Silverton Medical Rescue, the International Mountain Medical Symposium will be bigger and better than any previous event as their registration list and conference offerings have grown each year. The Symposium is designed for medical students, professional guides, mountain search-and-rescue team members, and anyone who regularly recreates in the backcountry. The Symposium is open to all skill levels, from physicians to outdoor recreationists aiming to build their wilderness medicine or search-and-rescue skills.

General group and breakout sessions include technical rope rescue workshops, whitewater rescue skills, diving at altitude, avalanche rescue and resuscitation skills, hemorrhage control in the field, and recognizing critical patient changes. Sundown sessions take place each evening and are often a highlight of the weekend, celebrating topics ranging from the history of mountaineering in Denali to Pemba Sherpa’s unforgettable presentation about helicopter rescue stories from the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas.

As the primary campus for the Symposium, the town of Silverton provides a variety of classroom spaces located around town. As for lodging, participants can choose from historic hotels, boutique inns, bed-and-breakfasts, or vacation rentals. Those who prefer to sleep under the stars can camp at dispersed or formal sites located close to the action. Days are bookended by Silverton’s array of food and beverage offerings. Visitors will find plenty of coffee, pastry, or hearty breakfast options at one of Silverton’s charming restaurants or cafes. A pint or two at a micro-brewery provides a cozy backdrop for recapping full days of information overload. Ravenous appetites find satiation over gourmet dinners or a quick slice of pizza.

Before or after the Symposium, mountain enthusiasts can take advantage of the many adventures discovered down any road leading from Silverton. Hiking, fishing, rock climbing, peak bagging, mountain biking, and trail running outlets abound in the heart of the San Juan Mountains.

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