If you’re traveller in avalanche terrain, wearing a beacon it is 100% essential. The bottom line; is that if you are buried by a slide, wearing a beacon will improve your odds of survival more, than not wearing a beacon.
Avalanche Check List
Check your batteries, put new batteries in your beacon if needed.
Make sure ever one in your group is carrying a beacon, prode, shovel? and know how to use them.
Seek out critical data before you leave. (i.e. avalanche bulletins, weather reports, local authorities)
Wear your beacon under your outer layer and make sure to turn of your cell phone.
Before you leave the trail head make sure all group members beacons work.
Analog Vs Digital
Analog simply let you hear the audible deep when in receive mode. Almost every analog beacon display a visual indication of the signal strength. Digital beacons display a distance indicator to the victim’s location in meters and also a directional indicator.
Immediately After An Avalanche
Make sure the surrounding slopes are safe and you’re not exposed to any additional avalanches from above.
Determine the number of buried victims, as this will influence how the search should be organized.
Pick out the most experienced group member to take the role of leader and organize the group, with the most experienced on the rescue team and the less experienced watching out for any additional avalanches from above.
Have the rescue group put there beacons on to receive mode and the other group switch there beacons off.
Consider calling for help. Calling for help is very situational dependant. Be sure to consider, how many minutes the victim will be buried if you call for help, how fast the rescuers can respond, how will the victim be transported once they have been located.
Look for visual clues on the debris (e.g. gloves, skis, poles) If you see any item on the surface, make sure it’s not connected to the victim.
Search Technique For A Single Burial
Primary Search Phase
Searching for a single burial is to receive a signal, by using the zig-zag pattern technique to locate the victim under the debris.
Set the beacon to receive mode and move down the debris in a zig-zag pattern until you obtain a signal. The appropriate spacing of the zig-zag pattern varies with different models of beacons. The newer model of beacons have longer range signals, than a lot of the older models.
Example: Searching with the ortovox S1, it’s recommend to search with a 50 meters side width. Again each model of beacon varies.
If in doubt about the appropriate spacing recommended for your beacon. Have a look through the manual. I know the manual for the ortovox F1 has a illustration showing the appropriate spacing for that model. But if the manual for your beacon doesn’t have the appropriate spacing, make the search area narrower. Having a narrower search area won’t make a difference. Having to re-search the entire debris, the victim will no doubt be dead.
It’s always easier to move downhill when searching, than it is uphill. The last thing you want to be doing is repeating the the whole search. It’s better to be in a narrower search area, than ending up at the run-out with no signal, then having to climb uphill while trying to obtain a signal. (note: if the last person in the group gets buried, the search must be started from the run-out.)
When searching, slowly rotate your beacon at a 360 degree orientations (i.e., rotate your wrist) to increase the chances of obtaining a signal from the victims beacon. The goal of the primary search is to receive a initial signal.
Secondary Search Phase
The secondary search phase the rescuer is trying to get within two or three meters of the victim. The technique for the secondary search will varies depending on whether your beacon has a directional indicator.
Perform the signal search until you receive a signal from the victims beacon. (i.e. primary search phase)
Follow the directional indicator (i.e. arrows or lights) When the arrows increase, start to follow the direction indicator in the opposite direction. (Note: the direction indicator can point in either direction on the flux lines)
Continue to follow direction indicator on the flux lines, as it guides you to the victim.
Try and move quickly while the distance is more than 10 meters.
When you get to a distance of less than 10 meters, slow down and pause for a few beeps to let the direction indicator changes direction.
At the distance of a couple of meters, you have completed the secondary search phase. If your beacon continues to display the direction indicator after the secondary search, ignore it and focus on the pin-point search.
Pin-Point Search Phase
The point-of the pin-point search, is to try and get as close to the victim, before starting the probing phase.
Continue the secondary search phase, until you’re within a couple of meters of the victim.
There should only be two rescuers for the pin-point search. Additional rescuers should begin assembling there shovels, for helping to dig the victim out once located. Slowly move your beacon left to right, forward to backwards until you obtain the lowest distance. (or if your using a beacon what doesn’t have a distance meter, move it left to right, forwards to backwards until you find the strongest signal.) It’s important that the beacon points in the same direction at all times. Don’t let the beacon rotate as you’re swinging your arms left to right, forwards to backwards.
Slowly move your hand from left to right looking for the lowest number, them forwards to backyards again looking for the lowest number.
Repeat the above process until you find the spot with the lowest number. When moving the beacon left to right, forwards to backwards it causes the displayed distance to increase.
When you find the lowest distance or the strongest signal, begin probing until you strike the victim.
You have completed the pin-point search phase. Now it is time to begin probing for the victim. The probing stage of the search is a part of the pinpoint as well. But I want to go into a bit of detail about the probing technique.
When you start probing for the victim, always trust your probe and avoid the desire to return to using the beacon. The time you waste probing a larger area is usually small compared to the time you will waste returning to a beacon search.
Insert the probe perpendicular to the slope (90 degrees). Because your beacon will take you to the closest location relative to the transmitting signal, which is not necessarily directly above the victim.
The first probe should be at the location where the strongest signal was located. Probe in a spiral motion from the centre point at no more than 25 cm (10 inches) intervals. This small distance ensures that you will not miss the victim. It is better to waste a little time probing tightly than to miss and have to repeat the probing phase.
If you encountered a strike on your first probe and it isn’t not over the victim, continuing to probe every 25 cm (10 inches). You will eventually locate your victim.
When you strike the victim with your probe, leave the probe in place and begin the digging phase.
Digging for a single buried victim usually takes more time than searching. It’s just as important to practice your digging technique, as practicing your beacon skills.
Digging The Wrong Way
You wouldn’t think that there is a wrong way to big? It seems simple enough to dig the victim out of the debris, but having the right technique will save a lot of time and energy. When it come to digging the victim out, some rescuers tend to stand directly above the victim and dig straight down.
Think of it this way, the victim is buried under 3ft the snow. So the victim will have a hard time trying breath, because the pressure of the debris will be pushing onto the rid cage, and making it hard for the lungs to expand. Standing directly above the victim will only exacerbate the problem more. For this reason, you should always dig downhill form the victim and horizontally. It’s much easier to move snow horizontally, than lifting snow vertically. An other common mistake, is the rescuer make the hole to small for moving around. The hole has to be large enough to be able move around efficiently and tend to the victim.
Digging The Right Way
The first thing to do is leave the probe in place. Start digging downhill from the victim, then dig horizontally toward the victim. When there are several rescuers digging, start to dig in a V shape. This way each rescuer will have enough room to dig away at the sides and pass the snow out of the middle.
The rescuer digging at the point of the V will be doing most of the work. So it’s important to keep rotating the diggers every three minutes. Don’t lift the snow vertically, instead slide it down sideways to the middle of the V. It makes moving the snow a lot easier and takes less effort.