Ok its 2020! If you haven’t been riding yet, well you had better get on it! I find this time of year to be great for dusting off the cobwebs. Go on some short rides to get back into the swing of things. Relearn how to handle these amazing sleds and build back up that muscle that you haven’t been using enough!
I also make sure to pack extra tools, especially the ones that I use to put on new parts to my sled, that way I can be sure to adjust things, or retighten bolts as my sled gets broken in. I find this sometimes on new parts that I install, and not so much on the stock stuff. So thats pretty nice. Kind of like my rear axle that I loosened to install my Toms rear skid, but forgot to tighten it all the way and lost the rear axle…. lucky for me, the Munster rail brace kit kept it all together enough for the day! hahaha But its things like that, where I need to get back into the groove of sled season!
Another very important part of dusting off the cobwebs is practicing avalanche rescue with your riding partners! This is so important!!! You need to do this! No for real, you need to take your gear out, assemble it, and then run through multiple rescue scenarios. How else would you ever be able to successfully dig out a buddy if you have never practiced? There is a specific order for the process and it has been proven to work very well if you know how to do it. So please, you owe it to your loved ones, and more importantly your riding partners loved ones to be good at the necessary skills to ride in the backcountry!!
Heres a break down of how I practice, and the steps for a rescue. Another great tool is this video from AIARE. Click this link to check out proper rescue skills: https://www.facebook.com/AIARE/videos/353814482158219/
Set up: Find a open meadow, or low angle hillside, hopefully away from other groups, and something that is NOT avalanche terrain. Somewhere your riding group can hang out. Great for lunch time. Then track out the area, figure about half of a football field, and I mean track it up real good.
Transceivers off: Make sure everyone in the group turns their avalanche transceivers off so the person doing the search does not pic up other signals. This is also why its important to pic non avalanche terrain!
Bury a pack: Make sure you have a transceiver in it and its turned on! I like to bury a tunnel bag, or backpack, one that does not have my lunch, snacks, or my tea in it, this makes for a good probing target. You can do this two ways, 1. have someone not participating in this round bury it, so the searchers do not know where it is. or 2. know where it is so beginners can have a successful first go. Then build up to running blind, and make it feel like the real thing. Make sure you bury at least 2′ deep. This will help you in the long run, of learning transceiver numbers / distances, proper probing, and actually shoveling.
Outline the scene: For the searchers, tell them whats going on here, how many people in this mock rescue are buried, where is the slide path, where is the debris. Paint them a picture so they can get into the scene.
Perform a practice rescue: Ok here is where we dive into the proper check list:
Stop, Assess Safety: Make sure it is safe to enter the debris, look for hang fire, or other hazards that might cause you or other rescuers to become victims, and determine if it is safe to enter or not.
Choose a Leader: Someone needs to delegate tasks to others. It goes smoother if someone takes this roll, but be sure to keep things moving.
Head Count: How many missing? pretty easy, but important to talk about. Did they have transceivers? (I hope so)
Call for Help: (911) : This one can be done now, if you have the resources, however I think it would be more important to perform a successful rescue first if you dont have enough people to get this done and search at the same time. Make sure you give them details: Location, Nature of Emergency, Name, Number in group, and Number missing, keep it short, concise, and informative.
Switch all Transceivers to Search Mode: Make sure everyone on the surface, within a foot ball field is in search mode!!! If 1 person is not, then the searching transceivers will pic that signal up and you will not be able to lock onto the buried victim. This is a very important step!
Determine Where to Search: Where was the victim last seen? start below that point, or start at the toe of the debris. Are there terrain traps? Or clues to search inline with?
Search for Signal, and Visual Clues: Enter the debris from the side, or the toe. How big is the debris and what strategy do you need to find the signal? Remember search strips should be 40m apart, and 20m from the edges. If your using a 3 antenna transceiver.
Yell to others when you find a clue or receive a Signal: Be vocal with every step, ensure the rest of your rescue crew know whats going on, so yell to them when you receive a signal, and indicate where you found the signal first. Also yell to your crew when you find a clue. Put the clue on top of the snow. Have a member of your party assemble their probe and shovel. Remember if your only searching for 1 buried transceiver then you only need 1 searching transceiver, other people can get ready for other steps in the process.
Follow signal to burial area: Follow the arrow on your searching transceiver, and make sure your numbers are going down. This indicates your getting closer. All transceivers put out numbers in meters, so familiarize yourself with what that looks like. Keep your transceiver close to the snow, but do not go up and down with it, try to keep it on the same plane, dont move it around a bunch, its not as smart as your cell phone! Calm and steady. As you approach 10m slow down, mark your direction with your helmet facing the way your arrow is showing. When you approach 5m get low, and start a fine search. If you have the resources deploy someone to start probing infront of the searching transceiver.
Locate Burial With Transceiver and Probe: Depending on your transceiver, your arrow may or may not go away. So from 5m go straight slowly until you locate the smallest number in that line (X axis), confirm by passing it and watching the numbers go up, then return. Keeping your transceiver in the same orientation, start to slide left or right looking for the smallest number in that line (Y axis). Once you locate that smallest number, mark it with a glove or something. Then begin probing, this is a specific pattern. Start at the marked lowest number location, pushing the probe all the way down, or until it hits something, then go 25cm away and repeat, then move 25cm away and repeat, do this in a spiral pattern so that every probe location is about 25cm away from the closest one to it, this should leave no place for a body to hide. Once you have a probe strike check the depth, and leave the probe in place.
Shovel Fast & Effectively: Organize a shovel team, (again why practice is so important) 2 in front, 2 behind? 1 in front? reverse V? or chain saw technique….. Either way, you need to move about 1.5 times the burial depth down hill, or away from the probe, dig down, and then in. This makes it easier! Also if you have a Hoe shovel it makes it easier. Shoveling takes a lot of work, and your going to be whooped, so make sure your digging in the right spot! An average burial takes about 1.5 tons of snow to be dug up! wow….. when you near the victim, slow down and make sure you dont hurt them more. Find the airway and get them breathing.
Patient Care: Yup your not done yet! Hopefully you have some sort of EMS training, because 25% of avalanche fatalities die from trauma, so most avalanche victims are banged up. So knowing how to treat trauma is also important. Your victim is probably going to be shooken up, and cold, and who knows, so make sure you can deal with anything.
Evac: Best case scenario your victim will be rescued, because you did a great job, and practiced enough to be effective! Congrats, but I bet they will need a change of drawers…. so you will probably have to head back to the truck…. oh wait is their sled or bike above the debris? well maybe some more digging. Or if they are banged up and need medical care, then your going to have to figure out how to evac….. Did you call 911 back at step 4? or is now the time? Do you have an Inreach, Spot, or sat phone? can you get the victim out safely?
There is a lot to do when it comes to a rescue, and getting someone out of the backcounty. This is why I want to see people practice, and get formal training. Imaging if this happens to you, and you didnt get training, and your buddy dies. You will forever feel like you let them down. You could have done more. You could have saved their life. Because lets face it, we all make mistakes when riding, we all have close calls, but its how we can set ourselves up for success that matters. I would rather do everything I could to save someone and fail, rather than not have the skills to be effective.
Ok back to the happy side of all of this! Time to get out there and shred! Dust off the cobwebs and have fun, because this is what its all about! But just do me a favor, and work on your safety skills, because I only want to ride with people that would be able to save me if I make that mistake.
Thanks for caring, and Lets Ride!