Sunday, 23 January 2011

New Avalanche Resource from SAIS

The SAIS have a new resource for those wanting to see avalanche activity over the preceeding days, weeks or season.  Here's a snapshot.  On going to the link you will see sub menues next to the red dots giving details.  This is a great resource and should also give folk a "heads up" on sites where risks and events are more common.  skiers should take heed as a lot happens "inbounds" or close by on Creise where there are some great lines. Below is a picture of the avlx that took a snowboarder (my neighbour!) and he had to be dug out. Unlike skiers, boarders can't come out their bindings so when buried get really stuck!

Boarder being avlxd Canyon Glencoe 9th Jan 11 - SAIS picture


Spring Run avlx Crown 9th Jan 11

Friday, 21 January 2011

Surface Hoar - Answer

CranKitUp Gear's Garden Hoar Jan 2011
Boarder Triggered Avlanche on a Facet Layer Glencoe Jan2011
Why is buried surface hoar so dangerous?
Buried surface hoar is dangerous because surface hoar crystals form a thin layer that contains a lot of air. This means that the layer on top of the surface hoar is mostly supported by air. When crushed, surface hoar crystals have the capacity to rearrange themselves into a much smaller space, which causes the layer above to fall. As the layer falls, it provides energy that causes the crushing to spread. After the crushing process is complete, you're left with two layers of snow that have no attachment to each other-delamination has occurred. Finally, gravity, which is always in effect, pulls the detached layer downhill.

All the persistent forms ( facets, depth hoar, surface hoar, and combinations of these with crusts ) are dangerous for this reason. Crusts, when found alone, are dangerous for slightly different reasons, mostly related to poor bonding at the interface between the crust and the layer above-poor bonding increases the risk of catastrophic delamination, and catastrophic delamination is required for avalanche formation. The answer provided here intentionally does not discuss weak layer parameters such as anisotropy or variations in grain morphology, which are more related to why the layers are persistent than to why they are dangerous.

What is the significance of snow crystal size?
There are two key factors related to crystal size: the first factor is that large crystals have a lower number of bonds per unit volume. This is part of the reason why the persistent forms, such as facets and surface hoar, are so weak. Networks of large crystals can be quite strong, but they are almost always relatively weaker than networks of smaller crystals.

The second factor is grain size mismatch between layers. Grain size mismatches result in weaker bonding between layers, because the smaller grains overlay the pore space between the larger grains. This means a lot of the smaller grains are simply "touching the air". Furthermore, such configurations tend to concentrate stress at the interface between the layers.

What wind speed produces wind slab?
This depends almost entirely on the condition of surface snow. It takes little more than a stiff breeze to move dry, loosely packed snow. On the other hand, hurricane force winds will have little effect on dense, frozen corn snow.

What is the source of uncertainty in persistent weak layers?
With respect to persistent weak layers, uncertainty arises from a few key factors:
  • Where is the weak layer?
  • What is its depth below the surface?
  • How weak is the layer and surrounding interfaces?
Picture a mountain valley. You know that there is buried surface hoar in some places. You also know that its depth below the surface varies. You also know that its degree of weakness varies by location.

From "The Cookie Monster" and "The American Avalanche Review"

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

RECCO in Scotland

RECCO Testing Glencoe 21& 22nd January 2009

“RECCO is not a replacement for knowledge or experience in the backcountry. Nor is it intended for companion rescue or as an alternative for a transceiver” RECCO Sweden
The RECCO system was developed by Magnus Granhed in collaboration with the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1983 after he lost a friend in an avalanche and experienced how slow and difficult search and rescue methods were at the time. The first live rescue attributed to RECCO occurred in 1987 in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. RECCO is now used by more than 600 ski resorts and rescue operations worldwide. To view a list of resorts that use the RECCO system and who integrate the reflectors into clothing, visit RECCO Sweden

Until recently RECCO was primarily used by search and rescuers as a backup system due to the minimal number of RECCO reflectors in the use. That has changed over the past few years as more than 20 million reflectors have been integrated into popular winter sport products by companies such as Haglofs, Arcteryx and The North Face to name but three. The new dual function R9 detector complements the use of avalanche transceivers and minimizes the required number of rescuers at risk in avalanche terrain.

Once on the scene, in a 100m x 100m avalanche field it can take 20 rescuers six to 20 hours with a probe pole to search the 10,000-square-meter area. A single rescuer equipped with the RECCO system can take a quick 10 to 15 minutes to locate buried victims. RECCO reflectors are small match box-size tabs built into outdoor clothing, ski and snowboard boots, and helmets and return harmonic radar signals emitted by the RECCO detector for rapid pinpoint location by search and rescuers. The reflectors are available in products produced by more than 200 manufacturers, including The North Face, Arcteryx, Helly Hansen, Atomic Ski Boots and PRO-TEC Helmets. The reflectors don’t require a battery and are integrated into clothing or equipment that is worn on the body and can’t be left behind or turned off.

The dual function capabilities of the R9 system (RECCO & 457) allows rescue workers to use a single unit to greatly improve their speed and efficiency and accuracy. The R9 weighs less than two pounds and can easily be carried by patrollers, mountain rescuers. The R9 detector provides straight-line directionality from up to 200m in the air and up to 20m in snow.

This test was carried out on a unit kindly loaned from Swedish MR/Ski Rescue by Rickard Svedjesten from Hybalsdalen/ARE under an agreement from Christina Lydsdahl of RECCO Sweden. Rickard is an old friend and one of Sweden’s ICAR representatives. I first met him in France at an international conference where I gave a lecture on avalanche rescue where there were rescuers with many years more experience than mine. The event was hosted by the director of the French Avalanche Association (AENA) and I was very nervous.  The seriousness of my situation was relieved by copious “demi pressions” passed to calm me by Rickard and his delegation.  A very healthy attitude to rescue and alcohol ensured us Scots and the Swedes got on very well as demonstrated by his trust in sending over an expensive piece of equipment based solely on “Facebook” wall to wall chatter. Davy Gunn of BASP/MR & Jeff Starkey of BASP/ Nevis Range Ski Patrol carried out this test.

We had little training, only familiarity from witnessing demonstrations of older RECCO units at FIPS conferences. We had only intuition and a 2 page guide. We found the device smaller, lighter and more portable than we imagined and very easy to use. Reflectors gave a very strong signal from as much as 50m down to 20m if the reflector orientation was not flat or was behind a dense object.

A primary sweep often picked up an initial signal.  Using the avalanche tip sides as a boundary and marking a search zone is a “must do” action to ensure accurate search strips. Marking the direction of travel with small marker flags or some other method is a must.  Search strips must be narrow at 8m (4 +4) or 10m (5+5).

Wearing the headphones gives much better sensitivity to the subtle initial “beeps” at long range or poor weather.  We tried finding mobile phones with them switched off.  The range for mobiles was between 4.5 and 2 m requiring the operator to almost be on top to get a loud signal, but this varied to as much as 4m with some phones giving a stronger signal.   We confounded ourselves at first while searching in the dark until we realized that a head-torch is a good radar reflector.  Better than the phone in some cases.  All mobiles, radios and head torches therefore need to be well away from the search zone as the unit picks them up as background reflectors. At night illumination from out with the search zone from handheld search-lights would be most effective.

Due to the directional nature of RECCO, ground can be covered very quickly so even though the unit is designed primarily to detect the RECCO reflector, mobiles, cameras and head torches which have a harmonic will be detected quickly especially if not buried greater than 1.5m which is within the high survival probability group. This requires a narrow search strip, but within a defined area and a fleet of foot operator.  This will be faster than any avalanche search method available to Scottish rescue for those without a transceiver at the moment.  Dogs of course also have apart to play, but due to logistics and travel may arrive on scene after organized rescue teams are on scene conducting an initial search with RECCO.

Additional Benefits
First thoughts are, that as Scotland has no transceiver culture and low avalanche awareness in relation to Alpine countries then RECCO could have a place. Both the cost of transceivers and the lack of a transceiver culture would always make companion rescue a hit or miss affair if the victim was buried so burials need speedy organized rescue with the appropriate resources.

An additional benefit of RECCO is to the rescuer in our opinion.  Acting as a back up to avalanche searching for fellow rescuers. Virtually all Scottish teams exposed to avalanche risk reduce the consequences to themselves with transceivers. However, the single most confounding issue at any avalanche rescue is transceivers auto-reverting, or when inexperienced search managers fail to ensure buddy checks to prevent false transmits.  Auto revert is not a big issue in companion rescue as most parties are small.  In organized rescue numbers can be great with a constant background of false transmits.  Alpine rescuers have dealt with this by strict search discipline, limiting numbers to the initial search area, and by using RECCO as a safety backup.

Canceling auto revert puts the rescuer at risk from a secondary slide.  Many Alpine rescuers have RECCO reflectors on their helmets, boots or in clothing.  Should a secondary slide bury the searchers then RECCO can be deployed by back up rescuers waiting out with the danger zone (in addition an often forgotten but effective warning is also spotter with a whistle so you can run!).

If I knew nothing of RECCO 9 but witnessed its ease of use I would say every team should have one.  However, in the real world these units are not cheap to rent with a 5 year rental at 2,500 euro (ex VAT for which we wouldn’t be liable?).  For this reason its uptake might be limited to four of the mountain areas, three of which have ski slopes with avalanche history that would also benefit.  These RECCO units could also be air mobile to assist other teams when an operator and buddy could be tasked to help out from out-with a team’s normal operational area.

RECCO in our opinion has a value for use in locating avalanche victims in Scotland.  These may be either the ski or mountaineering public, or in a worst case scenario rescuers themselves. As this is along established search system we may perhaps ask why its use has not been considered before.  Worthy of consideration is that this system is systemic in all nations where avalanche rescue is undertaken, and there is a public perception that we may already have the technology as the clothing has been readily available in the UK for over 18 years.

We would like to thank the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland and the MRC of S Avalanche course teaching faculty for their sponsorship and support in this test.

Written by Davy Gunn - Glencoe Mountain Rescue
Assisted on the practical trial by Jeff Starkey - Nevis Range Ski Patrol

Level 1 Avalanche Course Glencoe



Saturday 29th January 6-9pm
Sunday 30th January 9-4pm (apx)

Cost £30 p/person

Equipment - Transceivers, Shovels & Probes can be borrowed from BASP if needed
(credit card details required to secure loan)

Included in the price is free access to Glencoe Mountain & the new Back Country Access Transceiver Park

This course is weather dependent so we are collecting names of Members that are interested in attending at this stage

If you have any questions please get in touch

Please email Fiona -
to note your interest & we will be in touch nearer the time to confirm if there is enough snow
for the course to go ahead

Kind regards
Carol Starkey

BASP UK Ltd, Personal Assistant
to Fiona Gunn (Business Manager)
20 Lorn Drive, Glencoe, Argyll, PH49 4HR
Tel 01855 811443

I am using the Free version of SPAMfighter.
SPAMfighter has removed 125121 of my spam emails to date.

Do you have a slow PC? Try free scan!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Avalanche Know How

This excellent book should be on every off piste skier and tourers book shelf. At less than £6 it's a snip and I am considering it as the book for all Level 1 courses with the addition of  Bruce Trempers book for the more advanced course.  Click the link below and treat yourself to a good concise handbook from folk who know about the subject.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Wellington Avalanche

On March 1, 1910 there were two Great Northern Railway trains stalled by heavy snow at Stevens Pass, Washington Northeast of Seattle. One train was a local passenger train, the other was a fast mail from the east. They had arrived a few days before at Wellington, just on the west side of the pass. All the efforts of the railway to get them safely across the pass and off the mountain had failed. The snow plows were out of coal, the food was low, the snow was falling at one foot each hour, and a tremendous lightning storm had been raging for hours.

In the middle of the night a large avalanche came down and struck both trains. The force of the sliding snow pushed both trains into the Tye river valley, one hundred fifty feet below. Mixed in the avalanche were large trees and boulders which added to the power of the fast moving snow to destroy the train cars. Ninety six people were killed in the avalanche.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Glencoe Mountain Today

Duncan my son and I went up Glencoe today to ski  fresh tracks on our good fat ski's.  After hearing of 5 avalanche incidents yesterday, including 2 very big sponataneous slides and one boarder swept 100m and another buried to his chest, we were fully transceivered up. We had some good fresh tracks in the morning but by afternoon it closed in so I went with the avalanche observer Paul Moores and his assistant Pete Weir while Duncan skied with his friend Robbie. It was interesting hearing of some of the new things coming to the SAIS and also for me to clarify some aspects of the pit profiles I wasn't sure about, so thanks lads for letting me chew the fat with them I enjoyed the social. Paul lives in Chamonix most of the year but used to live in Glencoe so has strong ties here, so it's always good to catch up with an old mate. It closed in later so Duncan and I went into the transceiver park then went and did a snow profile on the Wall run.  In the park my T2 is so much better than my old T1 which I have given to Duncan. It's faster and more accurate and no signal spike.
Paul Moores & Pete Weir at the Top of "The Sprin Run"

Paul collecting data for the avalanche information service

The BCA Park under 100cm of new snow

Duncan Gunn ready to practice in the park

Getting close with my old T1 ready to probe the plate

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Hamish MacInnes Opens Beacon Park

What a great day to open a Beacon park and catch up with some gentlemen of the hills. A privilege to be in such company. Hamish, mountaineer and rescue legend, Phillip Rankin WW2 Mosquito pilot and survivor of being shot down in the channel badly wounded and great folks who turned up to support the project. If I didn't have a bike race tomorrow a few beers would be slipping down by now!

Hamish opens the Beacon park

Phillip Rankin founder of Glencoe ski area on left

Some Freeriders turn up to practice


Probing practice

Phillip, Doc MacLaren, Pete Weir & SAIS Forecaster and guide Paul Moores

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Snowpulse Saves a Life - Nomads

 These mad mothers got tramped.  Hey it could have been worse and a grenade could have fragged them.  Watch and see in this clip how mad the mothers are:

One of these guys had his ass saved by a Snowpulse bag.  Checkout the series of photos on the slideshow at the start   (ouch the leg looks sore! by clicking here)   and here's a translation thats pants, but gives you the gist:

On Saturday December 11, 2010, Nicolas Falquet (32 years) had the fright of his life when heskied with his  brother Loris (30 years) and the young Valaisan Jérémie Heitz (21 years). It s' d' acts; an additional safety member “Our product allows d' to increase in an important way the chance of survival in case d' avalanche. Since 2007, we had 27 deferred cases people who used this product in a positive way. It s' acts only of the cases for which we received a report/ratio. It must have some well more”, explains Pierre-Yves Guernier, chief technical officer of the Valaisan company Snowpulse SA, whose seat is based in Verbier and who has as ambassadors the brothers Falquet and Jérémie Heitz. “We insist however on the fact that Life Bag n' is not infallible and qu' it must be regarded as an additional element of the panoply which any amateur of except track should have. The fact d' to be equipped d' a system airbag as ours should not be to be regarded as a full power to go to make except track without any risk” How does it go? Technically, its originators thus explain that the Snowpulse bags comprise a airbag integrated in the straps, qu' a cartridge of compressed air located in the rucksack. In the event of avalanche, l' airbag inflates in 3 seconds by traction of an ergonomic handle. Once inflated, this one supports the protection of the user against the shocks and thanks to the physical phenomenon of opposite segregation, it brings back the victim to the surface of the avalanche. The physical principle of the “opposite segregation” shows that in a fluid moving, the large particles, with equivalent density, are found on the surface of this one after a certain time. L' airbag increases the volume of the victim while decreasing its density, which causes to improve its floating. Tests avalanches carried out with mannequins of 90Kg also made it possible to show the part which the position of the airbag compared to the body of the victim plays. It was noted qu' a airbag located around the head and on the thorax supports a position head on the surface and on the back, limiting thus largely the hiding of the face of the victim. “After having consulted charts weather, we decided to return to us on the field of Lauchernalp, in the valley of Lötschental. One skied for us, just for the pleasure. Without camera, pressure. One wanted just s' to burst and make the uneven one. One did not know this station and one discovered a really cool place, all did jusqu' well; in d' beginning; afternoon…”, explains the professional freerider. Drama with 3000m d' altitude “After to have already skied several hours, one was at the top d' a corridor with approximately 3000 meters d' altitude. C' d' was difficult; to estimate the quality of the snowy coat and the risk to engage there. The danger of avalanche was of 3 and one was aware qu' it was consequently necessary to be careful”, continues Nicolas Falquet. “J' decided m' to hurl in first in this corridor jusqu' then immaculate. J' made the first trace without m' to delay, while skiing hyper quickly, a way of limiting the risks. Loris and “Kid” (the nickname of Jérémie Heitz) followed. Two others freeriders local also descended this corridor after us, at intervals less intense than ours, by connecting short turns”, specifies l' amateur of slips. “At this time, I said myself that j' were going to pay it expensive!” “With Loris and “Kid”, one went up second once at the top of this corridor which we liked well. I am this time left in third after my two accomplices. C' is whereas the drama occurred. I had hardly engaged that j' felt that left. After a first turn on the left, all s' is put moved as if one withdrew a carpet under my feet! J' started my airbag at once. It s' is inflated in a few seconds. But, j' however violently typed rocks with the knees and there, I said myself that I was going to pay expensive…” “J' was then carried, maintained on the surface of l' avalanche thanks to my airbag (explanation of its operation in l' framed opposite). That n' therefore was not a moment of pleasure. This n' was not a quiet descent as on a buoy d' Aquaparc but rather an interminable fall as in a washing machine! With precedes some the Na feeling not to know when that went s' to stop! J' in particular crossed a bar of rocks of 5-10 meters in height. I finally stopped the head on the surface d' an avalanche of 5 meters d' thickness.” “J' have vomit of snow” “J' stays slept on the side. J' had just an arm buried because of my stick blocked by snow. J' shook the head, vomit a little snow and j' noted that I had left myself there without too much evil! With final, I felt just a pain with the right knee which had morflé well during my fall. It was cut rather deeply, from the skin had been torn off. L' was seen; articulation…”, note the Of Vaud one. “I do not know really what started the casting which m' but c' carried; is clear that j' made a connery and that I l' have escaped beautiful. The system d' airbag that j' carry at the time of my exits m' saved the life! That was a beautiful demonstration of l' effectiveness of this safety member!” “J' believed that my brother was going to remain there” “With Jérémie, one had to be more shocked than him! I had just finished my run when j' saw all the face going down! I said myself that if Nicolas were inside and qu' it na' avit not engaged its airbag: either he had died or j' were going to inherit a handicapped brother with life! ”, explains, on its side, Loris Falquet. “Time qu' l' lasted; avalanche m' appeared interminable. It is only when the cloud of snow s' is blurred, after perhaps 1 minute 30, that Jérémie saw the bags oranges of l' airbag of Nicolas. Qu' was then seen; he moved. When one l' joined, one noted with relief qu' it was almost unscathed!” Héliporté with l' hospital of Viège, Nicolas Falquet remained 3 days there. Put under antibiotic to avoid an infection, its knee was drained. The Of Vaud one could bank up the skis the weekend spent, after 3 weeks of convalescence. He explains to have given the slats “with a certain apprehension to the beginning but without to be traumatized at the point to see from now on avalanches everywhere”. A system which proved reliable This system had already saved the snowboarder Xavier of the Street. On March 29, 2008, the made French of the catches of sight Were worth some, in the solid mass of Châtelet, with the extreme limit of the solid mass of Mont Blanc. Taken in an avalanche, it starts its bag ABS (for Avalanche Airbag System, the competitor of Swiss Life Bag), before d' to be carried by an immense wave of snow. 

Glencoe Beacon Park

Click to Enlarge

Hamish MacInnes is opening the first on snow avalanche transceiver training park outwith a major European or North American ski area on Saturday. Sponsored by ANATOM the Back country Access importer to the UK, and hosted by Glencoe Mountain ski area and ski patrol. The area is easilly accessed on foot via the chairlift for uplift or can be skied into as part of a signal search for those wanting to test or practice their transceiver skills. The park will also have a probing area with objects to "feel" when conducting a formal probe or as part of a pinpoint final search on companion recovery. Supported by the SAIS and Mountain Safety Forum this park should help Freeriders, Back Country Ski Tourers and rescuers practice in a relatively snow sure and realistic way. Individuals should speak to ski patrol and groups might be best to phone ahead. Donations for upkeep and further development welcome. BCA Distributor