Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

Post by blogger | July 2, 2009      
Backcountry Skiing News

Matchstick Productions is teasing the world with a new trailer. “In Deep” is said to feature an epic Shane McConkey tribute segment. I’d imagine that will deliver, but be truly sad at the same time. Like watching the slideshow or vid at a memorial service. More and good, it looks like they’re going to continue mixing it up on this one, with talking athletes and other such ingredients.

I got stoked watching the trailer, but also kept thinking I’d seen some of the footage somewhere before. Whatever, come September it is certain I’ll be cheering and shouting along with the rest of the audience. After all, like the guy says in the trailer, “skiing is fun.” And so is watching ski movies.

A ranger on Mount Rainier apparently skied into a crevasse yesterday. He lived. Must have been a close call. It’s common to ski down glaciers unroped, as doing it while corded is like herding a bunch of wild monkeys. Problem is, crevasses don’t care if you have a rope on or not, and some are big, with overhanging edges or snowbridges that skis don’t bridge. On the Denali Muldrow Glacier route many years ago, we NEVER went ropeless. That made for some comical skiing, but… One has to wonder, if you climb a glacier and deem it necessary to use ropes on the way up, how wise is it to coil the cord and ski back down totally unroped? One of those mountaineering discussions that burns up the tent roof?

Arva Link avalanche transceiver beacon.

New Arva Link, probably a pre-production image.

ARVA is coming out with a new avy beacon. Named the Link, the new beeper conforms to the Mammut’s information transfer system — the same tech that allows the Mammut Pulse to figure out if an avy victim is alive or “dead” by sensing micro movements while they’re buried, via a separate radio channel devoted to information transfer between beacons.

We’re of the opinion that using this technology for the live-or-dead indication, while interesting, is a disappointing departure from other things more relevant to getting a search done quickly enough to save lives (after all, even if the Pulse beacon says someone is not breathing or beating, they could be buried close enough to the surface for quick extrication and successful CPR revival).

For example, it’s becoming obvious (if it wasn’t already), that one of the worst potential snafus in beacon searching is when you get false signals from transmitting beacons worn by rescuers or spectators. This problem can be dealt with by expert use of digital beacons that identify and separate signals (as in a multiple burial), but it can definitely be confusing or even result in a false search pattern — all adding deadly time overhead to your search. What is more, if any beacons in your group have an automatic revert-to-transmit feature, you can get everyone in your searching group switched to receive, then after your’e involved in the search, bip bip, your companion’s beacons start reverting to transmit and confuse things enough to significantly delay the rescue. In other words, the very technology intended to save someone’s life could result in someone’s death. That’s just wrong.

As Jonathan said in his Barryvox review, regarding beacons communicating with one another: “What’s not included is an electronic alarm that rings when a group is traveling too close together…” I’d add that if beacons are going to talk together beyond simply transmitting/receiving the actual location pulse, another essential feature would be some way to totally eliminate problems with false positives from beacons reverting to transmit, as well as prevent confusion caused by rogue signals from spectators and others near the rescue scene. Let’s hope ARVA gets beyond the sexy but relatively useless “pulse” feature, and does something truly effective with this amazing tech.

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5 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. Randonnee July 2nd, 2009 10:55 am

    “crevasses don’t care if you have a rope on or not” – Stirring it up again, eh, Lou!

    Unless one is traveling on a certain crevassed glacier regularly I do not understand how one knows the hazards- and then it is uncertain. This is evidenced by Guide deaths in crevasses in the Alps and this Ranger falling in. It seems like a roll of the dice, with low odds of falling in being the only security. One day on foot I went through snowbridges 3 times while on a rope- no clues before as far as I could see. I have never punched through on skis, but that is a frightening prospect.

    It seems lots of folks ski Rainier and other crevassed volcanos regularly ski while unroped. They must be very skilled or very lucky- I will not presume to judge, I have rarely done so.

    One ponders if these same unroped skiers in winter carry the complete arsenal of avalanche gadgets for buried-body location? : )}

  2. Fernando Pereira July 3rd, 2009 1:06 am

    Adding to your concerns with the Pulse feature, I’d pose the following questions. First, all software has bugs, and more complex software has more and subtler bugs than simpler software. Is the risk of bugs from a secondary feature worth it in safety-critical equipment? Second, additional features put increased cognitive load on the user. Is the feature worth the potential increased user confusion in a time-critical situation? Third, in a multiple burial situation, what would be the protocol if one of the buried beacons does not give a pulse signal? Would that lead to triage in favor of other beacons? Would that be ethical? Would rescuers be prepared to make that decision instantly? More information does not necessarily lead to better decisions.

  3. Paul S. July 4th, 2009 2:00 pm

    I thoroughly disagree that lack of a pulse shouldn’t be used for triage purposes in a search. CPR is rarely effective, and always drains a significant amount of time and energy from the rescuers. I would hope that the Pulse recognizes that the beacon being tracked is not providing secondary data and says “No Data”, but if you can recognize that one victim has a higher likelihood of a positive outcome, that is important information, ESPECIALLY in a situation where time is critical.


  4. Lou July 4th, 2009 2:25 pm

    Paul, we might need to get clear about one thing. The use of the word PULSE is in my opinion confusing and wrong. The Pulse beacon does not measure or report heart pulse, only micro movements. Thus, it’s unclear how accurately one could triage with it. I have no doubt it could be useful, especially after a long burial of multiple victims (to figure out how urgent the rescue really is). But in the case of an immediate companion rescue, to me it just confuses the issue as I’ve heard of quite a few avalanche unburials where the victim was pulled out while in respiratory arrest, and lived. I’d go for the first person I located, no matter what the “pulse” was. Hopefully in a group situation there would be more than one digger, so this might be somewhat of a non issue…

  5. Rolf July 10th, 2009 1:03 pm

    There seems to be a lot of confusion about new transceiver technology.
    First: the ARVA is NOT sharing the same technology with the Mammut Pulse that indicates whether a victim is breathing or not!! ARVA is sharing the wireless connection with which transceivers can exchange information. Why is this interesting? This makes blocking of the already found signals almost flawless!
    Second: Pulse transceivers will never auto revert to transmit during a search as long as they are moving! A benefit from the same sensor technology that ‘recognizes’ breathing movements.
    Third: you can turn the ‘pulse feature’ on a Pulse transceiver OFF if you don’t want/like it! It is a pity people only seem to focus on this feature, while many other technologies on this transceiver might be interesting (as the non reverting autorevert as long as you move and the introduction of wireless communication between transceivers)
    @fernando pereira: In the latest edition of ‘The Avalanche Review’ protocols on triage in avalanche accidents were discussed.

    O yeah: I don’t work for Mammut nor do I only use their transceivers!!


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