Avalanche probes are a must for the backcountry. They can knock
precious minutes off rescue times in an avalanche situation.
Collapsible probes assemble quickly, they're longer and they
slide through the snow much more easily than ski pole probes.
Finally they are very lightweight and compact in your backpack.
Many ski patrollers strap a collapsible probe to their shovel
handle along with flagging for marking the perimeter of avalanche
debris, clues and the route to the avalanche accident.
|Rescue Without Beacons:
The only thing worse than doing an avalanche rescue is doing
one without beacons. It's your basic needle-in-a-haystack situation.
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of complete burials without
beacons do not survive. Beacons are very inexpensive when compared
to a human life, especially your own. Beacons also save your
friends from having to spend all night probing for you. Life
without beacons is not good.
Rescue without a beacon means using a probe.
Hopefully everyone in your group has either collapsible probe
poles or avalanche probe ski poles, and if not, then you will
need to go ALL the way back to the Stone Age and use tree branches
or whatever else you can find.
Some people also refer to this as a "hasty search",
but I don't like that term because it implies that speed is
more important than thoroughness. In an initial search, move
quickly down or up the avalanche path and concentrate on places
where the avalanche debris has piled up such as:
Debris piled on the uphill side of trees
collected on the outside of turns
• Debris at the
• Also concentrate on areas around clues such as a ski,
glove or snowmobile
In each one of these areas:
• Look carefully for something sticking out of the snow--a
hand, a glove, a ski, a snowmobile. Probe around these areas.
Snowmobile victims are usually found 3-15 meters (10-40) feet
UPHILL of their snowmobile.
• Spot-probe these likely areas by randomly probing
the likely areas. Don't spend a lot of time probing at this
stage. You should try to cover the entire avalanche path in
about 10-15 minutes.
If the initial search turns up nothing, then your victim(s)
are most likely completely buried. Don't send someone away from
the scene to get help, at least not yet. You need all your resources
to search. If you have no luck after about an hour, then send
someone to get help.
If you only have a couple of searchers, it's probably best to
continue to do random probing of likely areas. If you have,
say, four or more people, then you should organize them into
probe lines, but only after doing a complete initial search
of the debris.
Start in the most likely area, for instance an area in line
with a clue (ski, snowmobile, glove, etc) or downhill from the
last seen area. Start at the BOTTOM of the avalanche debris
and work your way uphill. For small groups of searchers, say
less than about ten, the 3-hole probe has the highest probability
of finding someone. Line up fingertip to fingertip. Then probe
three times, once to the left, once in the center and once to
the right. Keep track of the probes from your partners to keep
the probes evenly spaced and watch to make sure everyone stays
in a straight line. Probing is much easier if one person can
take the lead and call out the signals, "Probe right. Probe
center. Probe left. Step forward."
This kind of "course probing" has about a 70 percent
chance of finding a victim on the first pass. Statistically,
this is the most efficient use of resources with the combination
of speed and thoroughness. Probe all the likely areas. If you
have reason to think that you may have missed a victim on one
pass, make another pass. Remember that snowmobilers tend to
be located just uphill of their snowmobiles, usually 3-10 meters.
If, you have not had any success after, say about an hour, then
it's time to send someone for help. An organized rescue team
will come in with search dogs and if the dogs can't locate the
victim then they will form larger teams of probers to cover
the entire area. If they have no success with probes and dogs
after several days--which is common with very deep burials--they
will have no choice but to leave the victim to melt out in spring.
And yes, the price of a beacon is always better than putting
loved ones through that.