If there is one thing that you can learn in the mountains, it is to respect their power. But even the most prepared parties can be caught off-guard, and so it is important to be fully prepared when the unthinkable happens and an avalanche occurs.
The following steps are should be imprinted into everyone’s memory so that it becomes instinctual, ensuring no steps are overlooked and done with the greatest efficiency.
1. Choose/assign a leader. Call for help if you have a radio or cell phone. Do not go for help.
2. Assess and assure the safety of the party.
3. Head count. How many missing?
4. Identify (mark if possible) last seen point(s) of missing
5. Switch all transceivers to receive
6. Define likely search areas
- fall line below last-seen point
- deposition areas
- in line with clues found
- in terrain traps (gullies, stream beds, basins etc)
7. Initial transceiver search using induction line method (probe, shovel, first aid available)
8. Pinpoint search using grid method (within ~2m). Move slowly and get close to snow surface.
9. Locate victim with probe
- Golden Rule method: Probe as you would wish to be probed
- Logical probing from closest transceiver point onwards
- Probe hit (do not remove probe)
- Consider burial depth and hole size needed
- Start downhill and away from probe
- Dig toward probe
- Dig as fast and hard as possible
- Be careful as you reach the end of the probe
Memorize these steps to help save the life of a friend. Remember that in these situations, every second counts, so the less you need to think about procedure, the more potentially life-saving time you will have to recover your buried friend. Hopefully you will not need to do this, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
This information is intended to give a basic guideline for backcountry enthusiasts who are looking to understand more about avalanche terrain. It is not intended to be a replacement for a course with a qualified instructor.
Never go into the backcountry without proper gear. Always carry a transceiver, shovel, and probe… and the knowledge/experience of how to use them properly. Always travel with competent companions whom you trust with your life to rescue you.