Whether you’re skiing out the gates of your ski area or going on a backcountry tour there are a few pieces of gear that are absolutely mandatory. You must have a shovel, probe, and an avalanche beacon. But here’s the catch, YOU NEED TO KNOW HOW TO USE THEM. Use this five-step primer on how to search for a victim buried by an avalanche then practice, a lot.
We highly recommend going on an accredited avalanche skills training course before venturing into the backcountry. Avalanche safety courses are included in our internship plus, and 11-week ski or snowboard instructor courses, request a call back with our training consultants to find out more.
Or, check out what Philippa had to say about her experience on the AST-1 course with EA Ski & Snowboard.
1. Find A Signal
Once you have determined that there is no threat of avalanche debris coming down on top of you it is safe to start your search. First, make sure you and everybody else in your party besides the buried victim switch their beacons from transmitting to receiving. Go to your victim’s last seen point and start your signal search. At this point you are just looking for the victim’s signal. Work your way down the slide debris from your last seen point methodically back and forth so as not to miss any potential burial locations. The distance between switchbacks may vary depending on what model beacon you are using. But as a general rule, you should search to within 10 meters from the edge of your slide path and the distance between your switchbacks should be no more than 20 meters.
2. Coarse Search
Once you have located a signal slow down and begin your coarse search. Align your beacon with the strongest signal and follow that curved path to within three meters of your victim periodically checking your signal strength to confirm you are on the right path.
3. Fine Search
Once you are within three meters get your beacon right on the snow surface and begin your fine search. Bracket your readings along two axes to locate the closest reading/strongest signal that you can find and begin probing. Remember that your victim can be buried multiple meters below the snow surface.
At your lowest distance/strongest signal point begin probing. Probe in concentric circles around this point with each probe placement being 25 centimetres apart.
When you have hit your victim with your probe leave it there for reference and begin shovelling. Start shovelling about 1.5 times the burial depth (measured by your probe) uphill toward the victim. You will end up excavating a six-foot-wide trench that angles down to your victim.
It is key to learn and practice the correct technique, and that's why we have included an Avalanche Safety Course as part of our Internship Plus Ski and Snowboard instructor courses and on our 11-week Training Courses.