Well I guess the prayer worked, as the snow started falling around seven a.m. at my place in East Vail. Spent yesterday at the beacon park at top of Sourdough lift with my buddy Paul, who was off to the Peter Esten hut on Monday. It had been awhile since I had practiced intensely with my beacon and I was eager to try out my Tracker 2. I think overall most backcountry users, myself included, don’t practice beacon searches enough. There is also a contingent that treats them like an amulet, something that you turn on and forget, hoping it wards off the avalanches, with really no clue how to use them. I challenge all of us to get out and practice, especially in the face of the incoming storms and the avi warning issued for the Vail area.
A beautiful bluebird, insanely crowded day was a perfect opportunity to try out the BCA beacon park. Paul and I went through several mock scenarios, including multiple burials. We also had a guest appearance by local shralper Nathan Cook, 12, who has skied EV 3 times and wanted to get some practice in . I gave him my beacon and let him at it. His time would put most backcountry “experts” to shame. Nice work Nathan!
The biggest factor in a recovery is the human one, as even in practice sessions your heart rate soars and stress level rises. Imagine now how much that would be intensified if it was real and your friend was dying. Practice is essential to learn to operate a beacon effectively in a life or death situation when things are hitting the fan. With such a top-notch beacon practice area, there is really no excuse for any of us in the EV community not to be proficient. Under three minutes is a good goal for a single burial. Multiple burials are more complex and pose difficult choices for a single rescuer. When practicing, try to make it as real as possible. Make up a story, outline the “avi path” give your rescuer details about slide width, direction and last seen point.
Heres a quick overview of what should be the basic progression of a response to an avalanche accident if you are responding.
First, yell AVALANCHE!. Let everyone know, even if you are alone, do it. Next, mark your last seen point of you victim. You don’t want to waste valuable time searching above this point. Before you head to that point, turn your beacon to receive and make sure all of your party does the same. Turn and watch them do it. Would hate to be chasing another rescuer around while someone is waiting to breathe.
Have your probe ready and initiate the search. Stay on you skis and ski to the last seen point in the slide path. Start zig zagging back and forth twenty meters apart, ten meters from the sides of the avalanche until you get a signal, then use your recently honed beacon skills to zero in on the signal. Check every piece of ski equipment and clothing you might come across, as someone might be attached to that glove, that ski. Once you get within five to ten meters of the signal, get off your equipment and start your fine search using the grid method to pin point the smallest reading and begin probing. Probe in a concentric circle twelve inches apart until you get a strike. Practicing probing is very important so you can “feel” what it’s like to strike a backpack or wood practice box. Once you have a strike, LEAVE THE PROBE IN and begin digging. Do not dig straight down, but excavate the area to the downhill side of the strike and use the conveyor belt method(check out the you tube video on this). Get to the person’s head and get them breathing.
In a multiple burial, if you can turn off their beacon as well, that can only help you. Depending on the size of your group, the number of initial rescuers is up to you, but I would say two at the most, bring the rest down after you have located the victim. In a massive avalanche multiple initial searchers might be required. Having someone stay on top to act as a scene commander and a safety for you is a good idea if you can. Also as you are working on the excavation, make sure your equipment is accounted for and recognizable as yours, not to be confused with victim’s equipment for searchers coming on scene. Do not pee in the area, as if dogs are needed this will throw em off.
Multiple burials are a tough situation. That is why protocol is so important to keep only one person at risk at a time. Locating a person with multiple signals going off, especially in close proximity, takes practice and knowledge of that little sp button on your Tracker 2. Won’t go into it too much here, but research it and practice it these scenarios on your own. I found my Tracker 2 to be fast easy to use. I had been using a DTS for a long time and the improvement in range and speed was noticeable. I always like the simplicity of the Tracker, as it makes it easy for even novices to use. To many bells and whistles can get confusing, even for experienced rescuers.
I was stoked on the session, even more stoked to see a young warrior come out and practice with us old EV curmudgeons. As we move into the EV season, with the jones as high as the avi danger is going to be, please remember the old saying “the avalanche doesn’t care if you’re an expert.” Be safe everyone, enjoy the pow, see you out there.