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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.