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Your best chance of surviving a complete burial.
November 16, 2006 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Avalanche transceivers have become an essential piece of technology for people who spend time in avalanche terrain. Beacons, as they're also known, operate on an international standard frequency and can be used to find other transceivers (hopefully still attached to people) buried under snow, giving rescuers a chance to find victims before they suffocate. [more inside]
posted by mistermoore (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Learn how they work, read about what can happen with and without them, figure out which one is right for you. I use the Barryvox, my galpal uses the Tracker.

Beacons are useless if everybody doesn't practice using them. Some advanced reading, find an avalanche course near you, refresh your memory with an online tutorial. Past years' accident statistics.

At minimum, backcountry travellers should be carrying a beacon, an avalanche probe, and a metal shovel. Complementary gear includes the undersnow snorkel, the personal snowtation device and the big floating tetherball which pops out of your pack.
posted by mistermoore at 3:10 PM on November 16, 2006


Two-years this coming January my brother and two of his friends survived an avalanche while heliskiing in in the Selkirk Mountains, British Columbia. Unfortunately, one of his buddies didn't make it. The snow flow crushed him against a tree. They've had an annual backcountry trek there every year for the past 10-years or so, but have cancelled the annual tradition. We backcountry ski in Aspen (where I'm heading on Monday) -- and everyone is equipped with beacons, Aqualungs, shovels and probes.
posted by ericb at 3:18 PM on November 16, 2006


Here's the avalanche report from that fateful day.
posted by ericb at 3:28 PM on November 16, 2006


*and two of his friends were involved in*
posted by ericb at 3:30 PM on November 16, 2006


A closely related device is now being used to track firefighters and help them locate the exits in burning buildings.
posted by gottabefunky at 3:43 PM on November 16, 2006


Huh. That is extremely similar to the Tracker linked above. The avy one's the Tracker DTS, this is the Tracker FRT. I thought BCA was the parent company, but now I'm not so sure.
posted by mistermoore at 3:46 PM on November 16, 2006


The report from the avalanche that killed ericb's brother's friend is evidence for the limitations of avy beacons (ironic in the context of this thread). The victim was wearing a working beacon and was uncovered within 5 minutes, but died of injuries sustained in the slide. I'm all for beacons -- they unquestionably save lives, and I don't leave the trailhead without mine on here in the Sierra -- but unfortunately they're not magic amulets of protection.

I also don't go into the backcountry without checking the Sierra Avalanche Center forecast. There are similar forecasts for other regions, but since I don't live there I don't have them bookmarked.
posted by harkin banks at 5:36 PM on November 16, 2006


Avalanche transceivers are definitely a must when backcountry skiing. Unfortunately, most avalanche victims that are buried will suffer from some form of blunt trauma. Therefore, finding the skier before they asphyxiate might be the easy part. Handling someone with a severe closed head injury, a broken femur, or pneumothorax in a backcountry situation is going to be the hard part.

An avalanche transceiver does you no good, if you don't know how to use it. Finding the skier does you little good, if you don't know how to handle their broken body.
posted by gruchall at 5:41 PM on November 16, 2006


The report from the avalanche that killed ericb's brother's friend is evidence for the limitations of avy beacons (ironic in the context of this thread)

I don't think that's ironic at all. Everyone whose used one knows that beacons are extremely limited. They're just one of several tools available to the backcountry traveller, the most important of which is (cliche alert) the brain. My goal in the backcountry is to never, ever need my avalanche transceiver, and I'm working to maintain my success so far through careful route-finding and travel practices and snow study.

That said, beacons absolutely must be carried because they give you pretty much your only chance of surviving a complete burial. It's not a great chance -- a beacon moves you from like 1/10 to 1/5 -- but it's enough of a chance that it's worth it.
posted by mistermoore at 5:54 PM on November 16, 2006


Who's. Professional journalist here, I swear.
posted by mistermoore at 5:56 PM on November 16, 2006


avalanche.ca
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:28 PM on November 16, 2006


And if you're skiing in Europe, a Recco reflector is also worth having. If nothing else, it makes finding your body easier.
posted by three blind mice at 10:12 PM on November 16, 2006


Therefore, finding the skier before they asphyxiate might be the easy part. Handling someone with a severe closed head injury, a broken femur, or pneumothorax in a backcountry situation is going to be the hard part.

No way, gruchall. The immediate and greatest danger to a buried skier is suffocation. Digging him out fast is all that matters in the first 15 minutes. All other injuries take a back seat to breathing.
posted by three blind mice at 10:21 PM on November 16, 2006


One of the interviewees in one of the several avalanche safety videos I've watched had his lip perforated and a tooth knocked out by a probe pole while he was buried.

He described the pain as "the greatest feeling I'd ever had."
posted by mistermoore at 12:08 AM on November 17, 2006


Digging him out fast is all that matters in the first 15 minutes. All other injuries take a back seat to breathing.

I think you missed my point. Indeed the ABCs of emergency medicine are Airway, Breathing, and Circulation (in that order). I didn't say digging them out fast wasn't the important part. It is absolutely critical. As the article I linked in my first comment points out, if you can find the skier in the first 15 minutes, there is a 92% chance they will be alive. However, then you have keep them alive. There is strong chance that they will have closed head injury and in all likelihood they will also be suffering from other forms of blunt trauma. Dealing with serious injuries in a backcountry setting is tricky business.

My point... er... make that points are:
1. Wear a beacon and know how to use it.
2. Educate yourself in both avalanche training and wilderness medicine (scroll down to Schools/Training on that last link).
3. Wear a helmet.
posted by gruchall at 7:29 AM on November 17, 2006


Ugh. My fingers can't seem to keep up, that should have been:

... However, then you have to keep them alive. There is a strong chance that they will have a close head injury ...
posted by gruchall at 7:48 AM on November 17, 2006


The saddest thing I ever plotted was a poster of an extended friends and family group back country skiing. They took this group shot at the edge of a hill and 15 seconds later an overhang broke away under the father burying him. They managed to dig him out because of his transponder but he was already dead. Imagine a happy picture of someone 10 seconds before castrophe. I couldn't sleep for a week.
posted by Mitheral at 8:32 AM on November 17, 2006


I'd like to back up gruchall's point, because a few people seem to be losing it in debate about other things.

It doesn't matter how fast you find someone if you cannot keep them alive after you have done so.

Read that again. Digging someone out in fifteen seconds is pointless if they stop breathing five minutes later from their injuries.

It seems like a number of commenters are interpreting the digging-out as a step in treatment: that's a mistake, equal to the mistake made by some rookie paramedics of considering the establishment of an IV line "treatment".

All that you've done by digging the person out is gained access to the person. Your actions immediately after the point at which you gain access, including clearing the airway, securing the spine, treating life-threatening injuries and evacuating the patient are the critical element.

Put more bluntly, advocating familiarity with avalanche beacons without a concomitant familiarity with the basics of backcountry first aid, CPR and emergency contact with rescue personnel is useless. The two are integral.

If you don't have the skills to preserve an injured life after you dig them out, you're probably participating in a body recovery, not a rescue.

If you ski, snowshoe or otherwise comport yourself in avalanche-prone backcountry, you should know CPR and basic first aid, have drilled on both self-rescue and the rescue of others, be carrying safety equipment and be prepared for the worst eventuality.
posted by scrump at 1:31 PM on November 17, 2006


I love how much angry agreement is going on.

"YOU'RE RIGHT!"
"NO, YOU'RE RIGHT! ALSO!"

I still maintain, though, that emergency preparedness should take a mental backseat to emergency avoidance. Yes, you should be prepared and equipped for all possible situations, but that preparation should never be viewed as a license to behave unsafely.

Rather than just building a big screen to keep the fan-flung shit off of you, build a small basket above the fan to keep the shit from hitting it in the first place.
posted by mistermoore at 1:47 PM on November 17, 2006


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