Kitimat Search and Rescue (KSAR) held a rescue drill for sledders at Hirsch Creek Golf and Winter Club on Friday, January 10. (Photos Gerry Leibel)

The snow is deep – time for sledding

But before you leave, some simple safety tips from Avalance BC

Gear plays a critical role in avalanche safety. It’s simple: if you’re in avalanche terrain, you’ve got to carry the right gear and know how to use it. Everyone in your group needs an avalanche transceiver, a shovel and a probe. One or two of the three isn’t good enough – you’ve got to have them all.

The best way to stay safe is to make good decisions – but if something goes wrong, avalanche safety gear is critically important to a successful rescue. And it goes both ways: you’ve got to carry the gear so you can rescue others, and make sure all your riding companions do as well so that they can effectively rescue you if necessary.

When a person is buried in an avalanche, minutes can make the difference between life and death. You can waste a lot of time if you can’t use your gear efficiently. Make sure to take a training course, and practice, practice, practice.

Avalanche transceiver

Avalanche transceivers are small electronic devices worn close to the body. When travelling, everyone’s transceiver sends out a radio signal. In the event of an avalanche, those not buried switch their transceiver to search mode and follow the signal toward a buried person.

Three-antennae digital transceivers with a visual display and audio display set the standard for ease of use, speed, and accuracy. Features and functions may also include a marking function for locating multiple burials, or transmission of “vital data” to support triage.

Single-antenna (analog) transceivers are considered obsolete. Need convincing? Three antennae digital transceivers generally won’t find single antenna transceivers as well as digital units. That means if two people are buried close together, the one with the digital transceiver is likely to be isolated first. Signal overlap can also be a significantly bigger issue with old transceivers in a multi-burial scenario.

Remember, people who practice post the fastest transceiver search times. Whichever avalanche transceiver you choose, practice before, during and after the season.

Please note that many electronic devices and even the magnets in your jacket snaps can cause interference with transceivers.

Probe

Transceivers get you close to buried victims, and probes help you find them. Probes snap together like tent poles. An assembled probe inserted in the snow in a systematic pattern lets searchers physically pinpoint someone under the snow so that time isn’t wasted digging.

Probes vary in length, stiffness and materials, which translate into a difference in weight, durability and cost. Smaller diameter probes may be more likely to bend or deflect. The locking mechanism and line are important: you want a reliable, durable mechanism and a cable that doesn’t stretch (to prevent wear, tear and breaking). 240cm is the shortest standard length, and works fine in drier climates and for most rescues. If you recreate in deeper snowpack areas or use it for snowpack observations, consider a 320cm probe.

Shovel

Good shovelling technique can shave serious time off a rescue. Remember, not all shovels are created equal. It must fit into your pack, but within reason bigger is better. Avoid plastic or flimsy shovels, as they can break in cold temperatures or while digging in hard avalanche debris. An extendable shaft helps make digging easier so you don’t fatigue as quickly. Practice effective shovelling techniques: it can make the difference between life and death.

Transceiver Interference

Several types of transceivers have a magnetic on/off or off/send/search switch. If you have a magnet close to these transceivers, they can randomly turn the unit off, or to search, or to send.

Some transceivers also contain an electronic compass that can be highly sensitive to magnets and electromagnetic fields, especially during a search.

Magnets are just one of many items that can interfere with an avalanche transceiver’s signal. We need to be careful of all metallic objects and electronic devices. Research tells us to keep these items 20 cm away from transceivers in transmit mode, and 50 cm away when in search mode.

A partial list includes:

* metallic foil (such as wrapping on food, candy or cigarettes)

* cell phones

* cameras

* MP3 music players

* heated gloves

* headlamps.

A quick search for “transceiver interference” will give you some good articles. Also check out the online collection of papers presented at International Snow Science Workshops (ISSW). Montana State University provides a free searchable database of this research. You can find that collection here.

Recommended Gear

Avalanche airbag packs

Avalanche airbags or balloon packs can help reduce the severity of the effects of being caught in an avalanche by reducing burial depth (or even preventing burial), and/or facilitating rapid localization. They also help with visibility and may provide some degree of trauma protection.

It’s crucial to remember that an airbag is not a silver bullet. You need to know how to set it up and deploy it properly.

Even if deployed properly, you can still be buried with an airbag pack on. Failure to deploy the bag, failure to set up the equipment properly (e.g. using the crotch strap), and failure to recognize the seriousness of terrain traps have all occurred for airbag users and resulted in death.

Remember, even if you have an airbag pack you must also carry a transceiver, shovel and probe and know how to use them.

Emergency communication

Although not a substitute for companion rescue or self-sufficiency, emergency communication is valuable.

Cell phones may work close to ski areas, cities, and along highway corridors. Satellite phones work in most remote locales. VHF radios are an option but require a license.

Another option is a portable transmitter that can send a signal via satellite. Personal locator beacons send out a personalized emergency distress signal on an internationally recognized military satellite network. Satellite messengers, such as InReach or SPOT, are GPS-based devices that rely on a commercial satellite network.

These devices allow you to communicate short text messages and/or location coordinates to friends and family or, in an emergency, send calls for help.

No matter what you use, it’s important to plan ahead. Make sure whoever you have selected to receive an emergency message knows what to do.

If you’re able to call for help directly, have the phone number of the agency you want. If you don’t have that, dial 911 and ask for RCMP to initiate a SAR response.

Also, recognize that these electronic devices come with electromagnetic interference – it’s critically important to keep them separated from your transceiver when transmitting, and even more important when searching with a transceiver (generally 50cm).

Email the newsroom

Visit our Facebook page

Follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Just Posted

COVID-19 cases grow to 13 at B.C. First Nation near Fort St. James

“This is very serious,” says Nak’azdli Whut’en Chief

Rumours of Air Canada backing off Oct. 1 flight resumption unfounded

The airline and airport are preparing for return of scheduled traffic

Ecosocialists nominate candidate for Stikine

Edward Quinlan is the new party’s regional director for Skeena and Bulkley Valley regions

Minor parties scramble to get candidates nominated for Stikine

Taylor wants to be Christian Heritage Party candidate, Repen makes bid to represent Rural BC Party

Local M.D. urges keeping social bubbles to six

“This situation is happening in our own communities:” Dr. Kate Niethammer

B.C. records 98 more COVID-19 cases, most in Lower Mainland

One new senior home outbreak, Surrey Memorial outbreak over

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

2 British Columbians arrested, 3 at large in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

$250K reward offered as investigation continues into Sea to Sky Gondola vandalism

Police also asking for specific footage of Sea to Sky highway around time of incident

Trudeau ‘disappointed’ by RCMP treatment of Sikh officers over mask issue

World Sikh Organization of Canada said taking Sikh officers off the front lines constitutes discrimination

Liberals reach deal with NDP on COVID-19 aid bill, likely averting election

NDP and the Liberals have reached an agreement on COVID-19 sick-leave

Most Read