Avalanche Beacon Training 101
This information is simply for research purposes and does not replace the knowledge you will gain by taking an actual Avalanche Safety Course. It is highly recommended that everybody take an avalanche safety course before heading into the backcountry. You can find courses near you on the AIARE Website or by Googling “avalanche level 1 class”.
When skiing in the backcountry it is extremely important to know how to use a beacon. A beacon is an active radio transmitter that sends out low power signals when turned on.
Before hitting the skin track, it is extremely important to do something called a “beacon check”. This consists of everyone turning their beacon on to transmit mode or “send” mode. This mode is when your transceiver is sending those low power signals. One member of the group will then switch their beacon to “search” mode. Every member of the group will then individually walk past the person who has their beacon in search mode. As each member walks past the number on the beacon of the person in search mode should get smaller and smaller as the person gets closer. This is to ensure that everyone’s beacon is working properly before going out into the backcountry.
Beacons are a key tool in being able to find a buried person and minimizing the amount of time they are buried after an avalanche. With that being said it is important for everyone in your ski group to be efficient in using their beacon to find someone who has been buried. Another method you can use to stay safe in the backcountry is doing a mock search. A mock search is when a member of the group buries their beacon somewhere and the rest of the members go and try to find it as fast as possible. Depending on the circumstances, in an actual avalanche you can have up to 15 minutes to save the buried person before that person suffocates, however you should get to them out as soon as possible.
If an avalanche were to occur, here are some steps to follow!
- Once in a safe location stop to assess the situation and to make sure there are no other hazards. For example is there a risk of a second avalanche?
- Choose a group leader that will give tasks
- Take a head count to see how many people are missing
- Switch all transceivers into search mode
- Have one person in the group call 911 for help and give them the location, nature of emergency, your name, number of people in your group, and number of people you are currently missing
- Determine a location to begin the search: somewhere below the point where the person was last seen. Look for debris such as skis or poles
- Communicate with others in your group and yell out when you find a clue or get a signal. Make sure to pull clues out of the snow and leave them on the surface. When you pick up a signal put a marker in the snow immediately
- Call for a second searcher to get a shovel and probe ready for when you pin point where the person is
- Continue to follow the signal to the area of burial. As you approach 10m, slow down and be precise. Get on your knees and place the beacon on the surface of the snow
- At 5m put another marker on the snow that points along your approach trajectory
- Locate the closest transceiver signal by bracketing (going in front, behind, and side to side) from the burial site making sure to maintain consistent transceiver orientation. Make sure to put marks in the snow with your gloves around the pin pointed site making a box.
- Pinpoint using a probe from the center of the closest signal you got and go outwards in a circular pattern from that point
- When you find the person’s location with the probe leave it in the snow to mark the location
- Take a large step down slope from the probe or if it is a deep burial take 2 steps
- Start digging fast towards the probe and make sure to throw the snow far away (do not just dig straight down)
- If you are in a group make sure to change shovelers often to make sure you are each going as fast as possible
- Once you reach the buried person slow down so you do not hurt them with the shovel
- Expose the person’s face immediately and make sure snow is out of their airways
- Give CPR or first aid if required
- Move them to a safe area
- Plan your safe route out and follow up on your call for help
IF a helicopter comes to your aid:
- Secure all loose items so they do not fly away
- When it lands wait for the rescuers to come to you
IF you are searching alone:
Traverse the whole slope of the avalanche, then go down about 40m and traverse the slope again. Continue this making a sort of zig zag until you pick up a signal. Once you pick up a signal you will continue with the procedures above.
If you are looking to sign up for a professional avalanche class, check out these resources where you can find one near you:
- AIARE Course Providers: https://aiare.info/providers_list.php
- Upcoming Public Avalanche Training Courses: https://aiare.info/course_list.php
- Choosing an Avalanche Course: https://avtraining.org/choosing-an-avalanche-course/
Make sure to check out all our other avalanche awareness articles!