Avalanche Beacon, Probe and Shovel
Each winter and spring climbers, skiers and snowmobile users are involved in snow avalanches and rescues. The conditions are simply a mass of snow and a slope. With varying temperatures, the snow pack loosens and breaks free. Snow slips on an incline of any surface when a slight melting occurs, causing lubrication from the water. A small scale example is commonly seen on the roof of a house. It is common to see small sections of snow break free and sag and slip down the roof. If you examine this small-scale phenomenon on you may notice how layers of snow break free and slip. This is the principle behind a large-scale version. It is important to reach the victim within about 15 minutes. After that time hypothermia and lack of oxygen will greatly decrease chances of survival. There are several accessories that can improve rescue and chances of survival.
The Avalanche Beacon can greatly improve chances of rescue when used quickly and properly. It is a small and relatively light device weighing from 7 to 10 ounces. These transceiver beacons are either digital or analog with varying search performance factors with each type. Many avalanche transceivers can switch between modes. The experienced rescuer can use the positive attributes of either mode as he narrows the search.
An Avalanche Breathing Device along with the avalanche beacon are two very important survival tools for the backcountry enthusiast. The breathing device enables the victim to breathe when buried, extending the search time.
Portable Avalanche Shovels are made of lightweight plastic and aluminum. They are made to attach securely to the outside of a gear pack. Once the avalanche victim is located, using a shovel specifically made for snow will increase the speed of digging by a factor of four, compared to digging by hand.
Collapsible Avalanche Probes are easy to carry and fold to a compact portable size. These special poles are tubular steel that are joined together to make a snow probe up to 12 feet long. Some ski poles are made dual purpose with removal grips and baskets. This type of ski poles can be attached together to make approximately eight foot probe. Whether the rescuers use avalanche probes or ski poles, or something else, the key is locating the person quickly to save valuable time by avoiding digging in the wrong location.
The avalanche beacon or transceiver is the most effective and fastest method of locating a victim. When someone is buried in snow, the beacon will send a signal that other transceivers can detect. The backcountry enthusiast should set the beacon to "transmit" before entering an avalanche prone area. If an avalanche occurs, the rescuing personnel switch their transceiver to receive. The rescuing party makes their best guess as to the location of the buried person, then circles in a large pattern, decreasing the radius around the signal. Using an avalanche beacon takes practice, but if used skillfully can dramatically decrease the time an individual is caught in the snow.