Alaska State Troopers encourage lifesaving selfies for backcountry travelers

Alaska State Troopers are looking for your selfies -- those ubiquitous self-portraits, usually snapped with smartphone cameras, that make up countless Facebook profile pictures and online avatars.

But they don't want selfies snapped in bedrooms or bathrooms, in the privacy of your own home. They're suggesting Alaskans take a selfie right before heading out into the backcountry, as a way to account for their whereabouts.

Such a photo, troopers say, could save your life.

Troopers spokesperson Beth Ipsen said that although the advice to snap a selfie is new, it's actually part of a larger push to encourage those venturing into the backcountry to fill out a "wilderness trip plan," a form that she said has been around for "quite a while." The form can be found on the Department of Public Safety website.

Ipsen suggested Alaskans leave a printout of the wilderness plan on the dashboard of their vehicle, on their kitchen counter, or with someone reliable who can notify authorities if the traveler hasn't returned at a planned time. It asks for basic information -- birthdate, address, expected departure and arrival dates, method of travel and the type of gear being carried.

The selfie is an added tool, Ipsen said, and the snapshot should be taken and texted right before you head into the woods. It can show details the form can't: the design of a helmet or jacket, decals on a snowmachine or other identifiers.

"What is nice about the selfie is that it can be taken at the beginning of an outing and it is a recent photograph," Ipsen said. "If I don't show up to work on Monday, there's a picture of the clothes I was wearing, the machine I was riding, and any tiny bit of information can help."


As an example, Ipsen said such identifiers could allow a helicopter to "zero in" on a specific injured snowmachiner in a heavily trafficked area.

Ipsen became the face of the life-saving selfie technique after a Monday post on the Alaska State Troopers Facebook page. She posted a screenshot of a text-message conversation she had with her mother on New Year's Eve before heading out to ride in the Eureka area.

The first photo captures a bundled-up Ipsen in a red coat, purple scarf and dark beanie. Behind her are the front ends of two snowmachines. In the text, Ipsen tells her mother to "send in the cavalry" if she's not back at work Monday, and provides another photo of the snowmachine she's riding.

Since her post, Ipsen said she'd thought of other ways to improve the selfie, like taking a photo wearing her helmet.

Ipsen said that although the selfie hasn't saved a life yet, it could, and it's a technique helpful not only for snowmachiners but for anyone going to the backcountry, all year long.

"I had my boyfriend take a photo during the summer before I headed out for a day trip hike on the Ermine Trail near Cantwell," she said. "I was going to be by myself, and before I left I took everything out and had my boyfriend take a photo in case I didn't come back. He had a picture of everything I was taking that day. Give as much about your trip as possible. It could save your life. "

Megan Edge

Megan Edge is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Dispatch News.