Thanks to Ortovox for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
Get out and practice. It’s time to practice with your beacons, which, in the least, should be more tolerable than, say, forced violin practice in middle school. We’re talking about familiarizing yourself with your avy beacon’s essential functions and gathering with your group of ski partners, and retriggering those avalanche search synapses.
If you are a first-time backcountry skier this season and are preparing to take an Avy I class, learning and practicing the basics before your class cannot hurt either. (Don’t hardwire any bad habits, please.)
Beacons, especially some of the newer models, are loaded with functions. With added functions, the relative complexity of operating a beacon can increase. I need to take some time to familiarize myself with my beacon at the start of each season. I’m thinking of items like performing a group check at the trailhead, transitioning from a signal search to course search to fine search, and ultimately pinpointing the victim. I go back and make sure I know how to flag a buried skier.
With practing in mind and every day being safety day, we link to a few resources to assist with the practice.
First, Jonathan Cooper’s piece, “Be Prepared — Avalanche Rescue Practice Tips,” offers some solid advice. He states up front, “prepare for the unexpected with systematic practice.” Again, there are a few operative words here but prepared, and practice stands out. Cooper renders the rescue scene into the following discrete sections:
-Scene safety and size-up
-Patient care considerations
Another resource to help fine-tune trailhead beacon checks comes from Lou Dawson. His piece, Turbocharge Your Trailhead Beacon Check, is a best practices reminder.
Dawson writes: “If there are different brands of beacons in the group, make sure everyone knows how to turn each beacon off from transmit. During a rescue, you may have people who lose their ability to handle their beacon due to hysteria or shock, and you’ll need to turn their beacon off, so their rogue signal doesn’t compromise your search. Likewise, in the case of multiple burials, you’ll want to know how to turn off a victim’s beacon after they’re extricated.”
Dawson’s words remind us that rescue scenes are tense and can be complex for various reasons. It helps to know simple things like inter-group beacon functions. Learn how to switch your friend’s beacon into search mode and turn it off before you begin the skin up.
In that same article, WildSnow commenter PTOR, posted a keen idea: “I like doing a beacon check at the top of the last run of the day. Never know how cold etc. affects the drain rates of batteries in different models after the whole day out. Also, doing this gets everybody back thinking about the situation again when tired…”
Dawson’s story with the not so unsubtle title, “How Your Avalanche Beacon Can Kill,” is a more technical and beacon specific piece that dives into the auto revert function on some beacons. Auto revert (AR) switches the beacon automatically into send mode after a specified time of no beacon motion or use. In the article, Dawson presents several scenarios where having a beacon auto revert might bog down a rescue. Check your beacon manual for the auto revert specs. Lou brings up several reasons why you might not want the AR function enabled.
For the visual learners out there, we found two worthwhile videos. The first, from BCA, offers four relatively simple ways to practice a beacon search before the snow flies. Think of it as dryland training for the rescuer in you.
The second video, filmed on a stormy day, comes from AIARE. It is titled How to Practice Avalanche Rescue.
The video runs through the basics. Again, we suggest this as a method of reflection to remind yourself how to remain grounded and efficient in a rescue situation. These resources do not supplant proper training, education, and in-the-field practice.
We’ve heard this somewhere, “Be safe out there.”