Merging of Theory and Bier — ISSW 2018 PART 3

Post by blogger | November 14, 2018      

Post sponsored by Cripple Creek Backcountry, now with three locations in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

My last highlights post regarding ISSW (International Snow Science Workshop). Interesting discussion material buried below, persevere!

First thing: a shout out our friends at Backcountry Access, makers of the excellent Tracker beacons and so much more. They’ve been publishing a series of avalane safety videos with a younger slant, covering the basics. Eternal denizen of BCA, Bruce Edgerly, presented one of the vids as his segment of the ISSW conference. He said they’re using an educational concept, “peer to peer communication,” to reach their target audience. I picked an example as follows, see what you think. Too hokey? Fun? There is one blooper in there, see if you can spot it as an educational exercise. The entire series is here.

Freeride vs, Freedead, Pyrenees
Next in our video lineup, this one was not so wonderful. I wish I could share the visual. But it’s not public as far as I know (though we’ll be using it for a presentation at the Mountain Rescue Aspen community avalanche seminar Jan 18, 19). Worth summarizing: Resort skiers with head-cams recorded the whole sordid chaotic mess of what appears to be a fatal or close-call avalanche burial within resort boundaries. A crowd gathers, people run around in a disorganized mob, digging with their hands. Overall disturbing. Lesson: don’t get buried if many people are around, the cluster will take too long to find you. There is no strength in numbers, especially with untrained under-equipped people.

Words and captions from the terrifying video (they generically call avalanche beacons “arvas:” “Stay there, do you have a shovel? I have no ideas, I don’t have a shovel. Is the guy here? Turn off the Arva, probes! Probes! If you have an Arva turn it off this is going crazy. He is here!” Much of the digging is done with hands, a few shovels are eventually deployed. They dig straight down to the victim, with no effort to come in more efficiently from the side. “He is purple!” At 21 minutes, they’re still digging…

Lack of self-rescue gear was a big thing in this vid, yet I found the “arva” frustration more concerning. I’ve felt for a long time that all beacons MUST, once and for all, solve the problem of confusion due to searchers who don’t change their rig to search mode. This needs to be inculcated into the industry standards, so it works across brands and models. How would it work? Probably something to do with an accelerometer identifying stationary vs. moving transceivers, and the units communicating with each other. I recall some beacon companies have made a stab at this, but nothing substantive that is industry-wide and cross-brand compatible. Readers, any comments?

Manuel Genswein gave a presentation. He’s the guy we have to thank for heavier shovels — that don’t break. He said that in 2013 they began the process of creating UIAA standard for avalanche rescue shovels. The first standard was approved in 2017 and amended this year. It’s UIAA standard 156.

The standards put shovels through a wringer. They combine eight lab tests with field testing (324 excavations!). Test plots are recorded, load vs displacement on an XY graph. They identify a variety of failure modes, then the develop specifications based on the failure modes. Said to be challenging. Probably the most important aspect of the standard is the shovel needs to endure 300 Nm of torque, meaning if your shaft is a half meter long, immobilize the blade and hang 62 kilos (136 pounds) from the handle. (They had a chart of weight vs bending strength. Interesting.) For field testing the shovels, they used SAR groups as well as recreational “companion” rescue groups. 33% of product failed during field test.

Genswein’s team also studied shovel size. Conclusions: Minimum size is 500 square cm, medium size shovel is best as opposed to large such as grain scoop. Hoe configuration leads to reduced performance with less experienced users, okay for pros. Genswein related that despite binding standard not being legally binding, they’re getting good compliance in the ski touring shovel industry. In my view the standard appears reasonable, though I feel it should be split into two: “one-use rescue” and “multi-use professional” thus providing significant weight savings for skiers who may never use their shovel.

Full ISSW article is interesting. As are the following UIAA publications.

Publication of UIAA Standard 156 Avalanche Rescue Shovels

Do avalanche courses save lives?
This one had me thinking. The operative question: are avalanche courses the new high risk sport? Stefan Martensson begins his synopsis with this: “In a perfect world, the risk of dying in an avalanche should decrease with increased knowledge. On the contrary, studies have shown that this risk might increase after an avalanche course…”

It’s been obvious for years that avalanche safety education isn’t a panacea. More, the fact that so many “experts” die in avalanches brings reality to the theory.

Martensson said they figured what might occur is that avalanche courses attracted “sensation seeking” individuals who were indeed more likely to get in trouble.

Martensson and his co-workers issued a standard Sensation Seeking Scale test (SSS) to 343 course participants in Sweden, and found that the average score aligned with what you’d get from individuals who practiced high-risk sports. The highest value was found in in the pro course, age 20 to 29.

“Avalanche courses should be regarded as a high-risk sport because the participants have high-risk preferences,” is how Martensson stated it. He suggests that perhaps the SSS test should be issued to all avy course participants, with ensuing discussion regarding the participant’s behavior, goals, and so forth.

Backcountry Ascender avy education programs. Learning technologies. This is an application to encourage snowmobiler engagement. Built from a curriculum. Reach unaware demographic, and inspire people to continue education, also to help them become aware of the social contract. Instructional Design is key. “Gamification” focus on human factors. HUMAN factors to motivate the training, not just battle against them. This thing looks cool, 5 levels of achievement. At first level, gear, second level “Forest” CPR, etc. Built-in feedback, from approvers, they’ve had more than 60,000 messages exchanged. Selfies? 20,000 selfies, badges. Ask BCA about this. 24,000 users. Club with training based culture is more popular. More info here.

Lastly, an avalanche metadata and rescue digging study, presented by Bernd Wallner :
Statistics continue to roll in as the years roll by. Latest according to Wallner: 91% survival when rescued within first 18 minutes (companion rescue). Beyond 18 minutes the odds are dismal. Asphyxia begins during the first few minutes of a burial — you’ve only a few minutes to get to the person’s airway — but it takes excessively long to excavate a victim to the “standard CPR position.”

These guys did a field study with actual dummy burials and rescue diggers. A few more factoids from that effort: Ten minutes dig time for every meter of depth. During their, first test cycle both singles and doubles were equal in dig time. That’s encouraging for those of us who ski in duos, though I’d still offer that a group of three is ideal (assuming you’re skiing one-at-a-time and only one person is caught.) What seemed to be implied in the presentation was that perhaps some way of quickly reaching the victim’s airway, despite whatever body position they were buried in, is key. That along with starting rescue breathing before excavating to the “standard CPR position.”

All the ISSW papers are available here.

Part One ISSW.
Part Two.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


18 Responses to “Merging of Theory and Bier — ISSW 2018 PART 3”

  1. Jernej November 15th, 2018 7:43 am

    should be… All ISSW papers available here (PDF download link to full paper is at top right of the abstract)

  2. Steve November 15th, 2018 8:00 am

    I think the accelerometer is an excellent idea. The transceiver could be programmed so that if movement is detected in a X second interval it doesn’t send out a signal. Once there’s no movement it sends. This would eliminate the interference from rescuers or bystanders not switching to search. BUT, man that thing had better be foolproof, cause that’s a huge potential for a fatal error and then a fatal lawsuit.

  3. Jim Milstein November 15th, 2018 8:36 am

    Use a NASA trick, Steve. Three accelerometers. They vote.

  4. Lou Dawson 2 November 15th, 2018 10:07 am

    Link to the ISSW papers is at bottom of post, changed to “papers,” thanks for the help. Lou

  5. Quasimoto November 15th, 2018 12:03 pm

    Re: accelerometers – I think it’s a great idea, as I’ve experienced the cluster that is “Whose beacon is still in transmit?!?!?” The consequences are pretty high, but I’m optimistic: my phone can tell the difference between me walking, running, biking, and driving down the same street. It does that, of course, through a combination of data from the accelerometers, cell data, and GPS data. Transceivers won’t necessarily have access to all the data types, but still – seems like a solvable problem.

  6. Lou Dawson 2 November 15th, 2018 12:38 pm

    Barryvox Pulse had something like this, but not cross-brand compatible and more oriented to picking which person to dig up in a multiple burial scene. A bit silly, as compared to the need for cluster F prevention. Lou

  7. Shaen November 16th, 2018 9:35 am


    If no one guesses in the next couple days, could you let us know what the “blooper” is? I watched the video (since it was filmed at a local spot) but can’t really geek out on it too much here at work ; )

  8. Lou Dawson 2 November 16th, 2018 10:42 am

    It’s pretty basic. Look at the terrain. Lou

  9. Patrick November 16th, 2018 1:34 pm

    My thoughts – potential bloopers(s)
    14 seconds into vid. Same image again at 1.17. Skiers crossing above cornices on ridge, while photographer (and other riders) are on the slope below.
    2.17 – skiers climbing on ridge close to vey large cornice on skiers’ right.

    Lou – Thanks for the link to the BCA vids. Excellent series.

  10. Lou Dawson 2 November 16th, 2018 2:18 pm

    Not quite. Though 2.17 might be another one and a lost opportunity to give three words to avoiding cornices. Hint hint.

  11. KB November 16th, 2018 5:51 pm

    Though I’ve often heard that statistic cited that taking avalanche training courses increases your risk of fatality, this seems a perfect case where correlation is probably not causation (can’t find a free version of original paper to check methodology though).

    Comparing those who took training courses to those that didn’t is problematic because course takers self-selected that path. You take an avy course because you think you’ll be skiing in and around avalanche terrain. If you’re XC skiing through flat terrain or gently rolling hills, why bother with the course?

    What you really want (but obviously can’t do) is to take the population of people who would have taken avy courses and split them into two groups – allowing one to take the course and preventing the other from doing so. That removes the self-selection bias, and I presume your fatality rates among course takers would be lower than the excluded group.

    Perhaps something like SSS and activity surveys, administered far and wide enough, would give you a way to find more comparable people who did and did not take an avy course to better estimate the course’s true effect.

    My blooper guess goes to 2:30 where the skier appears to take a turn through a fresh debris field that looks a lot like the storm slab problem in the forecast. Perhaps those slopes aren’t quite so stable?

  12. Jim Milstein November 16th, 2018 6:32 pm

    Okay, obviously the blooper is having a Texan narrate. Totally unbelievable. Casts everything else into a pit of doubt.

  13. Arthur Von Boennighausen November 17th, 2018 11:54 am

    Testing Wildsnow Blog….. Not familiar with Blog software like this.

  14. Lou Dawson 2 November 17th, 2018 1:02 pm

    Hi Arthur, looks like your test worked. Lou

  15. Arthur von Boennighausen November 17th, 2018 4:00 pm

    Friend Louis:

    I still have that autographed hard copy of Wild Snow that you gave me in 1997 [ 21 years ago ] when the first few copies were made available.

    I thought it was wonderful that it had a reading ribbon like a Bible.

    You only let me have two copies. I gave the second copy to Himalayan Ski Mountaineer – Duane ” Shorty ” Lankford who is still living in Estes Park at age 85.

    Thinking “Ski Heil ” Allowed……

    Arthur Gerard Michael Baron von Boennighausen

  16. Ed November 17th, 2018 7:37 pm

    Looks like Mt … up in the _ _? The blooper is they would typically be in a long line of traffic heading up there :D. Lots of other good lower-angle options up there on questionable days. Freddie King (Going Down) in case anyone was wondering who the music was by.

  17. Lou Dawson 2 November 18th, 2018 7:41 am

    The blooper: At 1:27, pit work under a cornice, “good place to dig a pit” could be construed as “it’s good to dig pits under cornices.” In reality, it was probably a safe place but the video lens makes it look rather dicy, in my opinion. It’s like, let’s tour until we find a nice big cornice to hang out underneath. Lots of fine people die in cornice incidents, more attention to that in the vid would have been good, since there are indeed cornices (however benign).

    Main reason I called this out as _the_ blooper: people have died while digging snow study pits.

  18. Jernej November 18th, 2018 7:55 am

    KB… All avalanche research runs into the same problem. We just don’t know what didn’t happen and there is no way of adjusting for it without some serious ethical issues.

    What Jordi Hendrix et al are doing with tracks project is closest to figuring out decision making but still not ideal as it only includes those that participate and voluntarily collect gps data. And it’s skipping over some variables that could be studied.

    Andrea Mannberg had an interesting study on behavior/decisions but again ran into the same old problem of self reporting with associated self censorship and wishful thinking.

    VR/AR studies might get us closer to some kind of truth but I’m affraid it can’t ever be good enough as long as subjects are aware they are being studied and not in any real danger

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