Avalanche Safety Series: Equipment
How will you help someone if something goes wrong?
Before you head into avalanche terrain, you need to take rescue equipment (and know how to use it) so your group can help each other make it home safely. However, it’s important to remember that this is rescue equipment and not safety equipment. It won’t stop you from getting caught!
Did you know the survival rate of avalanche victims drops by 70% in the first 30mins? You need to act fast.
Why do you need rescue gear?
If someone in your group gets caught in an avalanche, you'll need to be carrying the necessary equipment to get them out alive. You’ll need to find them in the avalanche debris, pinpoint their location, and then dig them out in as little time as possible.
What do you need?
This is so you can locate someone who has been buried in an avalanche. They cost around $400–$900 and can be purchased from many outdoor stores.
- Put your transceiver on before you first step onto the snow. Wear it under your outer layer of clothing and leave it switched on at all times. It must be easily accessible.
Check everyone’s transceiver is transmitting properly. Repeat this check two or three times during the day. Get one person to listen for a response while the others file past one at a time. The last person then checks the first person’s transceiver before the party sets out. Everyone needs a transceiver!
Ensure that the transceiver is more than 50 centimetres from any other electronic equipment such as a cell phone, camera, or radio. These devices might interfere with the transceiver’s ability to operate effectively.
Check your transceiver batteries regularly. Use alkaline batteries rather than lithium or rechargeable batteries (unless the manufacturer says so) as the range and working life of these batteries is significantly shorter. At the end of each season, or in summer, remove the batteries to avoid damage from leakage. This also ensures you put new batteries in for the new season.
Probes are long collapsable poles — similar to a tent pole — that you poke into the snow in order to find a buried person. They are ‘used’ after you’ve located the person with a transceiver search. Using these effectively and efficiently can save you a substantial amount of time digging. They cost around $75-$200 and can be purchased from many outdoor stores.
Shovels are used to dig a person out once you’ve found them using the transceiver and probe. It's important to know techniques and strategies for digging a buried victim out quickly and efficiently, both on your own and in a team. They cost around $75-$200 and can be purchased from many outdoor stores.
4. Skills to use them
None of this equipment will serve any purpose unless you know how to use it properly and have practiced the techniques regularly. The best way to do this is to attend an avalanche course. If you want a quick refresh, or an intro before you head out on your first course, you can also find a free online course here →
There are some interesting ways to practice search techniques at home, and if you want to simulate the search experience in the snow many ski areas will have a transceiver plot available to practice on. Just talk to the patrol office to see if this is available.
Want to know more?
Get knowledge of the basics with a few handy online videos and tools we have compiled.
This is the 3rd of 3 steps make sure you read about the Training and Forecast you take with you as they are essential for Avalanche Safety in NZ.