Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Black Swan

I am reading a philosophy book. I like philosophy and it runs in the family. This particular book was one highly recommended to folk working in avalanche education which I do a little. Much is currently made of the human thinking traps with heuristics being the topic in vogue among professionals. Clearly there are thinking traps. And if we are aware of them maybe we can change our actions. 20:20 hindsight it's easy to see the mistakes. Thinking forward is not so easy. Do we only learn backwards...............

"Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. The sighting of the first black swan might have been an interesting surprise for a few ornithologists (and others extremely concerned with the colouring of birds), but that is not where the significance of the story lies. It illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millenia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird" 

We humans have a bias for the anecdotal rather than empirical and as the book above challenges, even empirical data can be wrong. But, in science its all about proof and the requires research and if its from more than one source then these empirical "black swans" are less likely as we increase certainty. Everything including travelling in avalanche terrain is managing uncertainty. As the cause of death in avalanches is researched by many alpine nations there is a lot of good data to support the statistic that folk mostly die because they either cant breath, or what they are breathing is not rich in oxygen.

I wouldn't say the book is to every body's taste but much like "Thinking Fast- Thinking Slow" and "Managing Risk in Extreme Environments" and even "The Checklist Manifesto" it's another take on how we think and how we learn from our mistakes. If we learn from our mistakes? may well be the take home from the above book, as when we change how we think with hindsight, we maybe just move the uncertainty somewhere else. You probably need a good strong hash cookie with your' coffee for this book.

I have re bought an old favourite book which is one of the few that rivalled "The Avalanche Enigma" it's called "The Avalanche Hunters". I am enjoying going back to these old books and realising that our knowledge of the subject has not had a quantum leap and these old tomes still teach lots. These books were all important to me as way back early to mid 1970's there was little formal training. We were fortunate in GMRT that Hamish was well connected and brought folk across to run training from Europe, and as early adopters had the first transceivers, but on understanding the subject a lot of self learning was needed.

I reflect back and realise we never really applied much of it to ourselves and skied off piste with total bravado ignoring things that happened to other people. Skiing back to Verbier off piste with Fiona's dad and a group after coming off Mont Gele which was hairy enough then down to Lac des Vaux towards Tzoumaz where the group of three strangers behind gets killed later, is just one example, and it horrifies me to look back at the sheer stupidity and randomness. As we were with friends in a group it was total group think and feeling safety in numbers. Another example in Switzerland was saying nothing when Fiona skied the back route down to Rougment off the Videmannette with a high risk with Roger and then getting lost in the dark. These were mere tasters to ducking the ropes later trips and bollockings from pisteurs. One time they even stopped the cable car above us on plan doe fou to shout as we ducked into a 45deg horror fest of ice. If on ski patrol now, I would arrest myself! These trips were not package tours but often two or three week stays in Chalets of lifelong friends of Fiona's parents, so the skiing was pretty immersive and full on with a lot of group bravado among fol our own age on the trips. All bad stuff in avalanche terrain.

I often wondered if it was MR that made me interested in the subject but looking back its the sum of lots of parts that all add up, and ski near misses and realisation that your were an ignorant fool that's probably the biggest one.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Stac an Eich - Creagallen Update

I had a wander up to the crag today and despite it looking impassable over the wind blow, there is a really easy route around the tree's.  All the routes are surprisingly clean, even Autan and although I didn't go up round the corner to the easier right hand routes they looked doable from below. Hard to believe there could be 4 to 8 folk climbing on here on a regular basis and quite a social with a fire at the bottom under the overhang - sometimes with beers. 

Makes me keen again. But I sold all my gear 4 years ago when I hurt my back and thought that was it as I had to learn to walk. Now back climbing again and getting into it I went and looked at ropes and making up a rack. It's not going to happen at the prices in Fort William so the good old days of soloing will have to return, but not on these routes as too steep and nippy.

Nice easy walk from the memorial cairn sign up behind the spruce then along below a wee crag
The wee crag looks like some one has climbed a  route which looks nippy but nice
Left line is "Autan" and the middle one shows "Shuttlecock" pitch 2 up onto the block then the airy step out. Also shows the escape route from the belay to the fixed gear. Two other routes arrive at that belay the best of which is Murray Hamiltons 6b which starts in the recess below Shuttlecock and goes up to the spike that isn't into the crack that kind of is. Ferocious!
Looking across to the upper dihedral of Shuttlecock to the top of the 1st belay. There is an alternative 5b start up and through the twisted tree shown but the best start is from the bottom on the flat bit and up into the corner as the gear is better and the hold good despite how it looks.
Left is one of Gary Latters 6b's and right is "Bill's Diggers Fucked" by Cubby. There is a story to the route name but not for on here! This route is ferocious so you have been warned although there is gear!
The central corner of "Marathon" which even the legendary Joe Brown climbed with me once. He led! Joe was a regular visitor to the area often with Mo Anthoine. Either working on film projects with Hamish (Spacewalk/Freakout live OB) or just climbing with Paul Moore's or Ian. He was still leading E4 6a at 60+ and the above corner was a piece of piss to him. I have done it many times (Fiona was a first ascensionist after Ed led it) and the gear is really good. It's a bit thrutchy and the top move left requires agility and it can also be done direct on finger jams. E1 5b if you climb on grit and E2 5c if you haven't. The slab on the left was climbed by Mark Macgowan (Face) and pokey. On the right is Gunnslinger. The lower off is a big block that you drop a sling over and at one point I may have held it a bit and pulled on it!
Looking at the short but brutal Gunnshot or is it Monument (at least I think its called that?)
Autan on the left and showing where Murray's 6b goes. There are 3 more E4 6b/c to the right of these between Murrays route and Bills Digger but I don't remember their names although I am sure they are in some sort of guide to highland outcrops or maybe even the Glencoe guide. I have no guidebooks having once sold them all for bike gear.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Roadside Routes in Glencoe

I surfed through the UKC crag data base. Its pretty extensive and includes most of the crags around Glencoe, many of which are overlooked by their grander big brothers up the hills. I was quite surprised they were listed, but also a bit disappointed that most had seen little traffic over the years and were now getting overgrown and neglected. For an area full of climbers the local ones seem reluctant to  climb or maintain these crags. I guess there is just too much choice now or folk maybe just don't climb as much as we did. I don't think there was a weekend or evening if it was dry that we were not out or away somewhere climbing. Until kids came along and it was reduced but never stopped and then they climbed as well.
All our kids can climb. Some thought required on keeping them safe when little and "the leader must not fall" are all part of the parental equation. Fiona climbed and skied with all our kids but we always discussed and put some thought into it and as an example would never ski a busy day as the risk of accidental collision is too high. Duncan belaying me on "Flying Dutchman". Now he leads F7c and it's me who's struggling.
Some crags like "Banana Buttress" has first ascents listed on UKC. The folk doing this wouldn't have been aware that there isn't a square foot of that crag that hadn't been climbed many times over by bar staff going back to the 1960's. Even the crag above this had an aid route on it and the Quarry was full of boulder problems (and often poo from campers). One challenge was the complete traverse without stepping onto the boulder (V3).

At the end of the road where it joins the A82 a stream gully come of the Aonach Eagach. A ten minute walk up and there is a crag with a crack line full of pegs and an overhang which was used for aid practise by Glencoe Climbing school in the 60's/70's. I free climbed it at about E2/5c and there is a stiff pull over the overhang. It's a bit of fun  although short. I wouldn't trust the pegs.

Going up the Glen, at the Gorge/meeting of three waters the obvious crack up the crag just across the river is a really good fun at HVS and has very good gear. It had wooden wedges in it at one time which have rotted out. Next to it on the left is an E2 taking a thin crack which is nippy with a move across requiring a bold move right and some heather pulling to join the same route. The HVS is good and a lot better than it looks so well worth it when dry. Behind there is a dry river gorge running all the way down to the stream from the Lost Valley. Out across from this is a band of promising looking crags which are actually not that good but there is a severe on the left "Alans Arete" which is a bit of fun on clean rock in a couple of pitches and has a nice outlook.
The Drey Crag
The Drey Crag" above the road with the hut set into it. This was the Edinburgh "Squirrels" hut. They are no longer, but luminaries included Dougal Haston and Jimmy Marshall. There used to be guide to the crag on the inside of the hut door.  It's a bit scrappy but a few routes, and the best is the obvious rock dyke with a small bulge to get around, no gear though from that point and its about severe. There is a harder crack and smooth bulge to the right of this (bold at the top) and to the left of the dyke there was a VS and on the extreme left a short V Diff chimney.

Above the Drey there are "The Red Walls" and slabs with boulder problems that catch the evening sun and are a lot of fun. You can make it easy or hard as the rock is excellent and the landings ok.
Mike Hall and I playing on "The Red Walls" above the Drey
Back in the dry gorge. Halfway down on the north side there is a clean crag with a crack exiting from a small overhang with a peg which is a good HVS. Used to be called "The Squirrels Crack" I think as it was Kenny Spence who did it but it may now have another name.  Further down still is a short "leaning wall" which gets the evening sun and has about six routes by me from E15b to an E2 5c/6a (Crimp) on the right that had very small wires as pro.

Back up the gorge leading to Allt na Righ coming down from the A82 is "The Bendy" with routes from the E1b Jim l' Fix It by me on the lower left, to an E4 by Murray Hamilton and an E4 by Gary Latter and I. I did Simmering Psycho which had a peg runner at the top as the cracks were blind and micro wires wouldn't fit. E3/5c and good natural pro to that point then finishing up a groove rather  more natural than the blanker walls of the harder routes and their exploding crimpy holds and RP pro. These crags were clean and well climbed at one time, so its shame folk don't re-clean and climb them now. Its a bit like the mountain bike trails I guess, folk wait for other folk to put the work in then they get to climb/ride. 

Some advice on when to climb these routes, if you want to try them.  The Bendy is a morning crag  it gets the sun early. The leaning wall at the bottom of the dry gorge is a spring crag or early evening summer as it catches the late afternoon sun and as its got a really nice outlook and grassy bottom so its a lovely spot with a cracking pool for a swim on the way back.

It would be nice to see folk enjoying these routes and although the main loose rock work was done years ago, they will require a brush up to clean them.  Or just go for it!

Stac an Eich or Creagallan as we new it, is the granite crag reached via the road to the memorial cairn past the golf course. It had a few easier routes on its west end facing the evening sun. Slabs such as Appin groove, or the rib to its left were soloed by me and are good fun at about VS. Right of Appin groove there were a couple of stiff boulder problem slab routes, and to the right of what we used as a decent gully a steep well protected wall route of HVS with lower from a tree.

The main crag routes are all in the outcrops guide and a bit like grit routes being quite pumpy. Shuttlecock on the east (far left) up the obvious corner is a cracker with good pro, and the original finish (pitch 2) went up a leaning block and had a step across and then up. Great situation and views from that belay. The top block of pitch 2 was pretty hollow but if its still there since 1983 could be ok. An alternative is to belay at the top of the corner and then move right and up to where the central corner exits where there was some fixed gear I left 35 years ago! There is also a direct start from lower down leading into the lower pitch which is about 5b/c. We tended to ab off which was a free abseil and part of the fun. Have an auto block as back up!
George Reid gets off the ground on Shuttlecock pitch 1 1982
Left of Shuttlecock there were another two routes including "Autan" which took the big area of granite above. Probably all covered now. A team with bow saws could really open up what was a great evening crag that often had a sea breeze in the sun, and was a popular often noisy venue as folk cursed up the routes which although a bit fierce are well protected if you can hang on. A pint in the Ferry bar often followed!
Me finishing Shuttlecock about to step left from the block pitch 2 original finish
Across the the Loch at Onich the obvious white wall above the A82 to Fort William has three routes. The faint crack on the left side by Kenny Spence/Fyffe is about E1/5b and I put a direct 5b finish on if you continue straight up and over the bulge. The three star route is the obvious crack system on the right which is as good a crag route as anywhere in Lochaber. Well protected by nuts and cams it's a steady E2/5b with the techiest bit just as you get established and get some gear in. This bit is where most folk back off as it can seem damp but as this bit of crag overhangs the drips are in space. Then its steady but pumpy on good holds to the top of what feels like a long pitch. It does lean over a bit! I think this was also Spence/Fyffe route and had an aid peg although we never found one and we free climbed it many times over the years. There is an eliminate 6a between the two crack lines but its a bit contrived. The "Right Hand" route is three star and don't be put off by the start up through the trees and bushes and stepping off the ledge. The gear comes and the climbing is good. Makes a nice evening doing both routes.

Further down and obvious above Kentallen bay is a Limestone crag. Best reached from an easy walk across the hill from Duror hall or a straight bushwhack up the sheep tracks from the parking at the old pier or cycle track. All the routes have steep boulder starts and then nice slabs and grooves with gear to finish. Belays were a bit scarce at the top but maybe the birch trees have grown and will be stronger. "Prawn" was a nice VS and Ed Grindly had "up periscope" 6a. I think Gary Latter did a route and rumour had it Dave MacLeod. On the left edge there is a rock recess and there were was good route by Bob Hamilton up the corner at HVS and I had two HVS's on the right and an E4/6a on the left of it which was never topped out due to water. The evening views from this crag are stunning and due to sea breeze its usually midge free.
Kentallen Bay Crag
The Lettershuna crag in Appin is more open now and has two E1's on its right end from Steve Kennedy 15 years ago. There are a few routes in the Ballachulish Quarry also. A red slab on the tier above the first stakes, the rib left of the polished slab, and the slab tucked away further in with the diagonal traverse line and three routes up tiny quartz wrinkles that I soloed some 30 years ago. A few bolts would maybe make them safer!

There isn't much new folks, but if you take care of what there is and look around I bet there is a lot more roadside cragging to be had locally. Personally I would love to see some sports routes on a previously written off non trad crag somewhere. I dunno, maybe port Appin or near bye. Its nice to have variety and fun without the big walks. Lettershuna now its open would be a top sport venue. Any takers?

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Know Before You Go at Glencoe

Winter is a great time to be in Lochaber. We are blessed with two ski areas both of which offer vastly different views and an experience both on and away from marked trails. Mountaineers also flock to the area as Scottish winter mountaineering is legendary requiring a toughness and resilience in often adverse weather, but amply rewarded by unique rime and ice formation or snow ice if you persevere.

If you’re a skier, then its “freshies” which are the holy grail. These first few tracks down a pristine slope with six inches or more of new snow are what it’s all about. Scottish powder snow is less Champagne and a bit more Sauternes but equally nice to float the wide skis down in big carving arcs of sweetness.

Whether mountaineer or skier, when the fresh snow comes its usually got wind behind it and somewhere on a lee slope the build-up of snow will be deep.  Avalanches tend to occur on slopes of an angle of about 30 to 50 degrees where this snow lays, and are most often triggered by the additional load of the victims. Sadly, many Scottish Corries have streams and gulches/gullies at the bottom and these trap the victim and so bury them deeply.

Folk need to “Know Before You Go”  

Get the gear and carry an avalanche beacon so you can be located, and which will also search for your friends. Three essentials including the Beacon also includes: Carrying a snow probe so a victim can be precisely located, and having a good alu shovel so you can dig someone out. Also, consider adding two Recco reflectors so your more searchable. Mountaineers shun the three essentials but Recco reflectors might at least give them a chance
Get some training on how to understand how avalanches occur, common cognitive mistakes and thinking traps that make us ignore obvious danger signs, and conditions. This will include how to interpret the weather and avalanche forecast and some basic understanding of snow crystals and how strong and weak layers’ form within a snow pack, also on how to search and dig out a victim and look after them. Glencoe Mountain has a state of the art training park for folks to practice with their avalanche beacons and digging and the ski patrol are always happy to give advice. I run some avalanche training up at Glencoe so please contact me via my web site for more information.

Get the forecast. Never go out without reviewing the weather for the day ahead and always look at the Scottish avalanche service forecast (SAIS) and take heed of the risk level and the forecasters observations. The bulk of avalanche incidents do not happen when the risk level is high but when its lower as folk assume it’s safe. Always bear in mind there is never no risk, just a lower risk.

Get the big picture and become a good observer of the precipitation, wind loading and conditions around you and underfoot, and add that to the information from the avalanche forecast and be prepared to change your objectives. The avalanche forecast is an area forecast and a Corrie or mountain may well have very different avalanche risk from local wind and weather effects. Look for “Red Flag" signs of recent avalanches, cracking or collapsing snow, new snow and drifting snow, also rapid thaw conditions. If these are observed, then change your route to a safer one or cancel your day and retreat.

Stay out of harm’s way. With the big picture, you will be looking around you and adjusting your risk assessment constantly. If a mountaineer look above you as someone may trigger a cornice collapse which takes you out. You may commit yourself into enclosed terrain where, if an avalanche spontaneously triggers you have nowhere to run. A ski tourer might skin up into similar terrain and be trapped. Or, if dropping into a Corrie you could be taken into a terrain trap as mentioned before. If its misty or a whiteout you have no way of knowing who or what is below you and if it does avalanche your friends cannot see you from above and may be unaware.

Terrain Trap - No where to go and buried deeply!

Important Considerations Before the Point of No Return, or Dropping In

Angle. Most avalanches are triggered on slopes roughly between 30 and 50 degrees. Below 30 degrees’ victim triggered slab avalanches are less common and above this angle slopes purge more frequently. The "Sweet Spot" where most avalanches are triggered is about 40 ish degrees with over 90% of victim triggered slides occurring in a 7-degree range bracketing that sweet spot. You can conclude from this that angle is an important part of slope assessment and subtle changes of angle on a given slope can have major consequences, therefore route choice and awareness of slope angle is important. Modern phone apps make judging the angle much easier. Rule of thumb for me personally is that as the avalanche forecast risk for a given altitude and aspect goes up - then the angle and altitude of what you ski comes down.

Anchors. What is the snowpack connected to? Have you been following the weather and avalanche forecast? Are there weak layers within the snowpack? Tree's and rocks can hold a slope as your friend or can be weak spots as your enemy where sun, heat, graupel or hoar frost has gathered. Subtle angle changes create trigger points at these places. Tree's are also natures cheese grater if you get taken into them. Ask yourself what the slope you are on is linked into from the underlying snowpack. Unstable snowpacks can often propagate a collapse into nearby slopes and draw an avalanche into lower angled terrain.

Aspect. Which compass direction does the slope you want to ski or travel face. Like angle, subtle changes in aspect can take you from a safe slope onto a loaded one. Carry a compass and learn about "slope aspect" i.e. which way it faces, as both a navigation and safe travel tool.  The SAIS forecast gives you the necessary hazard warning for compass direction but you need to apply it on the ground accurately. Some phone apps can help with this and even give you the area forecast 

Altitude. You can see by looking at the SAIS forecast that the hazard risk is most often greater with altitude, even in Scotland. The rate of snow deposition is higher with height, and the wind is also stronger increasing side loading of slopes. On dodgy days stay lower as well as skiing lower angled slopes

Complexity. As mentioned above. Be aware of subtle changes in angle and aspect and that localised instabilities are hidden and like a landmine can link one triggered mine to a chain reaction and a small slide gathering surrounding instabilities into a major avalanche event. Learn to read mapping for subtleties of terrain features and how snow may be affected, and think safety by pre-imagining what could go wrong. If it's a complex route, then it’s often unsafe as there are too many unknowns. Learn to know what you don't know!

Commitment. Always have a plan "B" so that if conditions change or are not what you expected you have another safer option. Commitment to a slope can mean no bail out options, i.e. having nowhere to go.  If you look at the pros on YouTube they choose their line so they can bale out onto a spine and have good runouts, and that's where the next "C" comes into play - consequences.

Consequences. If it’s an amber light's on in your head so you’re in a go/no go process, then add consequence into the thought mix. Are there crags, hollows, stream beds, tree's or any other terrain features that could shred you or trap you if there is an avalanche.

Micro terrain can have macro consequences 
So, as a final thought. Get the gear, get the training, get the forecast, get the big picture, and stay out of harm’s way. 

Davy Gunn
Avalanche Educator and Instructor

Monday, 14 November 2016

Avalanched. Getting Located Quickly

Time to get Recco aboard the new SAR Helo's
In Scotland there is a growing trend towards ski touring or free ride off piste and adventure skiing. Its pleasing to note that avalanche education is often talked about and is having an impact. This ultimately is what saves lives.  Good decisions are worth more than a shed load of gear. That's not to say that gear is not important and airbags are now more common and with a clean run out give you a better chance of staying on the surface and therefore surviving.  If you get to pulling the trigger in anger then somewhere along the line the decision process was flawed though. Part of being human and hopefully you live to not make the same mistake again. For those of you who are not on a big salary as airbags are not cheap then apart from the cheapest form of staying alive in avalanche terrain which is education and good decisions, then the triad of probe, shovel and beacon is your best hope. The prices have dropped quite a bit on this kit and its possible to get all three items (with three antenna beacon) for under £220. That's a pretty good investment on saving your life or that of a friend. 
At "the gate" below summit gully Glencoe.  RAF searcher finds a victim with  two 3m probes joined together.  Probing is slow!
Copyright Davy Gunn - crankitupgear Glencoe
Where are the mountaineers in this? Winter mountaineering in Scotland has never had the same ethos as winter alpine off piste skiing where carrying shovel, probe and beacon is essential.  One Scottish ski patrol and some mountain rescue teams now have a Recco detector. A lot has been said about Recco being a body recovery tool.  Mostly by people who have never used the system and who are quite ignorant of its effectiveness. Sure its part of organised rescue, and we all know that in the continuum from no rescue needed to organised rescue then organised rescue has poorer survival probability. This is because "triple H syndrome" (hypoxia, hypercapnia and hypothermia) are time critical. Modern clothing prevents or reduces any protective effect of hypothermia as its often just too good an insulator.  That's not to say long term survival isn't possible or Burnett would never have survived his 22 hours. With SPOT technology, mobile phones and ski patrol being nearby, or MRT's  maybe already deployed and re routed to a critical incident, then Recco mow has its place. It does work and has saved many lives. Reflectors are cheap and its good to have a few about your person. They don't have to be sewn into your clothing.  There are adhesive ones for boots or ones that will slip into a jacket pocket the size of a wee sweetie. While no substitute for an avalanche beacon they will get you found (only if the searchers have a Recco receiver). Recco searching is even more effective from the air by helicopter (the helo needs a £200 adapter kit) and with the new guuchi SAR helicopters being satellite broadband enabled then surely for mountain SAR they should have a Recco facility?
Recco is a World wide SAR network

The two-part system consists of a RECCO® detector used by organized rescue groups and RECCO® reflectors that are integrated into outerwear, helmets, protection gear and boots from hundreds of top outdoor brands. The reflector is permanently attached, requires no training and no batteries to function. It is always “on” and ready.

RECCO® reflectors do not prevent avalanches nor do they guarantee location or survival in the event of a burial, but they enable organized rescue teams to pinpoint the person’s precise location. The RECCO® history started on December 30, 1973 with a tragic avalanche accident in Åre, Sweden. Magnus Granhed, founder of RECCO® was riding the ski lift to the Mörvikshummeln when he heard a tremendous roar. An avalanche had ripped down the very steep slopes of Svartberget.

The result was chaos. Nobody knew how many people, or who, had been swept away in its path. “We started to search with our ski poles,” recalls Magnus. Later, probes and avalanche rescue dogs arrived, but in those days that was the only help available. Magnus remembers feeling “utterly helpless poking a ski pole into the snow” in an area the size of two soccer fields. By the time they found the two buried skiers the search had gone on for hours and both skiers had died. Right then he decided there had to be a better way to find people.
The accident in Åre set him thinking about the possibility of an electronic locating device to locate buried people. Granhed had just graduated with a Master of Science degree, and turned to Professor Bengt Enander, Department of Electromagnetic Theory at the Royal Institute of Technology in StockholmAfter some testing they saw that thermal imaging did not work, and transceivers were too limited so they tried to equip the skiers with a passive reflector. It took Enander’s team another two years, but the team’s work resulted in a PhD and the basis for the RECCO® System.
The problem was solved with harmonic radar. Just as is the case today, the reflector consisted of a diode that generates a harmonic when it is hit by the radar signal from the search equipment. The return signal, however, is much weaker than the search signal, and that was the great challenge for the project.  The challenge became how to filter out the strong search signal so that the weak signal from the reflector would be noticeable. At first, the range in air was only 5 meters, but today the RECCO® System manages more than 200 meters. The research team constructed and tested the first prototype in the winter of 1980-81 and RECCO® introduced its first commercial detector in 1983. It weighed all of 16 kg while today’s model weighs less than one kilogram. The first live rescue of an avalanche victim using the RECCO® System took place in 1987 in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.

Despite the early success of RECCO®, it was not until the 1990s when RECCO® gained acceptance by rescuers, and the mobile telephone industry helped. By the mid to late 1990s the huge demand for cell phones resulted in smaller and cheaper components. These improvements also resulted in much smaller and lighter RECCO® detectors that were easier for rescuers to handle. 

Following the lead of the increasing number of ski areas that have acquired RECCO® detectors – at present more than 700 ski areas and rescue teams worldwide – more than 200 manufacturers of outerwear, ski and snowboard boots, protection gear and helmets incorporate reflectors in their products. And it is not only the search equipment that has been continuously developed and improved, having progressed through nine generations since the start; the reflectors have also gone through major developmental stages. Thirty years of work lie behind today’s small reflectors.

Scottish RECCO trainer Davy Gunn