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BACKCOUNTRY SKIING SAFETY: TRANSCEIVERS, PROBES AND SHOVELS 

If you’re backcountry skiing or snowboarding this season, experience combined with the correct clothing and safety equipment (avalanche airbag, avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel) and a fully-qualified mountain guide are essential for staying safe and having fun off the piste. Read these top tips before heading out on your next adventure into the backcountry.


How Can I Help Ensure my Safety in the Backcountry?

Safety should always be your number one priority, both on and off the piste.

 

Ensure that you have all of the specialist equipment (avalanche airbag, avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel), and know how to use them.

 

The Ski Club of Great Britain runs avalanche awareness training courses, which we recommend you attend before you travel. Alternatively, you can speak to local mountain guides once you arrive at your resort to arrange a session.

 

The knowledge and skill or local mountain guides will ensure that you are kept away from potential danger and that you don’t get lost in the backcountry. They will tailor your route dependent on your group’s skiing ability and also the terrain and conditions.

 

You are responsible for your own safety, so if you become aware of any danger you must inform your guide immediately.

 

A good level of fitness is also essential – remember that the lift system may not cover the area where you are going, so you may be required to hike up the mountain before you get the chance to enjoy the descent!

What Clothing do I need for the Backcountry?

Layering your clothing will help ensure that you stay cool and comfortable on ascents. Ensure that you have a waterproof insulated jacket in your pack to keep you warm on the descent.

 

Whether you’re skiing on or off the piste, helmets, goggles and gloves are must-have essentials.

 

We also have boots that make hiking easier, and it is possible to buy skins for your skis to allow you to ‘ski’ uphill.

How do I Rescue an Avalanche Victim using my Transceiver, Probe and Shovel?

Understanding your safety equipment is vital before heading off the beaten track for your adventures.

 

Ensure that you have the following information imprinted into your memory, to ensure that using your safety equipment becomes instinct and that no crucial steps are overlooked:

1. HOW TO USE YOUR TRANSCEIVER

A transceiver (along with your probe and shovel) is one of the three vital pieces of safety equipment you should not leave home without when heading out into the backcountry. It is an essential tool that will aid in rescuing a person should they get buried by an avalanche. It is designed to both ‘transmit’ and ‘receive’.

  • After an avalanche, do a headcount – it’s imperative that you know how many people you are looking for.
  • If possible, note where the victim was last seen.
  • Appoint a leader of the group and call for help. Do not leave for help – everyone is required on the scene to help with the search.
  • Once the danger has passed, approach the spot where the victim was last seen.
  • Scan the terrain for signs of clothing and equipment – this may help with locating the victim.
  • Switch all transceiver trackers to ‘scan’ – the leader must verbally confirm this and check that the group has done the same. Tip: Unless you are calling for help, ensure that all mobile phones in the group are switched off, because a mobile phone signal can interfere with the transceiver signal.
  • Proceed to the point where the victim was last seen.
  • Start scanning the terrain using a grid system.
  • Keep moving towards the strongest signal. If the signal weakens, go in the opposite direction.
  • Keep moving until you find the strongest signal.
  • Listen for the victim, who may or may not be close enough to the surface to hear shouts.

2. HOW TO USE YOUR PROBE

Using an Avalanche Probe

  • A probe can quickly help confirm the location of the victim and the depth of the burial.
  • Start probing (carefully and gently) as close as possible to the location of the strongest signal on your transceiver.
  • Probe at a 90° angle to the slope in an outward spiral, approximately one boot’s length apart. Keep probing in this spiral until you locate the victim.
  • Once you have located the target, leave your probe in place and start to dig from below the position of the probe.

3. HOW TO USE YOUR SHOVEL

  • Start digging downhill from the probe to ensure that you do not stand on the victim or compact the snow around them.
  • Dig a hole that is 1.5x larger than the depth of the burial.
  • Ensure that dug snow is thrown to the side of the hole, so that you only move snow once.
  • If there is more than one person in the rescue party, increase the number of people digging.
  • Dig as quickly as possible. If there are high numbers of people in the group take it in turns. Remember, speed is of the essence!
  • If there are two of you in the rescue party, have one person digging behind the other. If there are three or more, have two people digging closest to the probe, and then two more below it.
  • In the event of multiple burials, keep the team searching while others start the rescue.
  • Try to uncover the victim’s head first to ensure that they are able to breathe.
  • Once the victim has been uncovered, send someone for help.