Avalanche Safety Briefing
On a backcountry ski or splitboard tour, we will be in a remote alpine environment, where there is an avalanche hazard.
Wānaka Mountain Guides assesses and manages the avalanche hazard but in the event of an emergency, we all carry avalanche rescue equipment that we may have to use. Please read the avalanche safety briefing to prepare you for joining our backcountry tours.
Wearing a transceiver
- Wear your transceiver on the body under your coat where it is easy to access. It should never be taken off or tampered with during the day until you are out of the backcountry at the end of the day.
- Jackets and pants must not have foil, heating elements, or magnetic closures.
- All transceivers have an On/Off switch that is designed to be hard to turn off. Look at the display when turning it on to ensure battery strength is above 50%.
- Practice switching between ‘Send’ and ‘Search’ at least 2-3 times.
Watch this video demonstrating a full avalanche rescue.
What to do in the event someone is caught in an avalanche
- Yell “Avalanche!”, watch the person(s) caught in the avalanche, and remember the last seen point.
- Appoint a leader. Get help (InReach, PLB, or phone).
- Everyone must assist with the initial rescue – time is life – 90% chance of survival if found in first 10mins!
- Everyone turns their transceiver to ‘Search’. Turn off all electronic devices.
- Appoint transceiver searchers and start searching ASAP.
- Rescuers not searching can assemble shovels and probes. Look for clues. Pull and probe around clues on the surface until a transceiver signal is found.
If you are caught in an avalanche
- Yell “Avalanche!”, and try to ski/ride to the side of the slide.
- Skiers discard skis/poles if possible. Snowboarders try to keep the board out of the moving snow.
- Try to stay on the surface of the slide, feet first on your back swimming motion. Your airway is the priority.
- When you stop moving and before snow compacts around you, try to create an airspace in front of your face using the crook of your elbow.
- Remain calm – anxious behaviour increases breathing rate. Your team will find you as quickly as they can
Signal search: Only as many transceiver searches as you need to cover the site with 40m search strip widths. From the last seen point if possible. Keep your eyes open for visual clues.
Course search: When you have a transceiver signal, yell “Signal”, and move in the direction of the arrow so the numbers get smaller. Move fast till you get to number 10. Yell “10”.
Fine search: Between 10m and 3m. S l o w d o w n and precisely follow arrows.
Pinpoint search: ‘3 to the knee’. When the arrow disappears move the transceiver forward on a straight line, and find the lowest number. Mark the spot.
Probe at right angles to the snow surface. Probe outwards in 25cm space from the lowest transceiver signal until striking the victim.
On a strike of a victim, yell “Strike”, and leave the probe in the snow.
Start digging one shovel length downhill of the probe. Start if the transceiver reads is less than 1m.
Other diggers line up behind the first digger, one shovel length apart. Rotate every 2-4 minutes.
Do not lift but paddle or scoop snow. If the snow is hard, cut blocks.
When you reach the body dig towards the head to check and clear the airway. Prevent further cooling.