Friday, 21 November 2014

Avalanche Course Dates and Equipment Offers

Avalanche 101 at Glencoe Mountain.  A serious subject, but no reason why learning can't be fun!
Due to the success of last years courses hosted by Glencoe Mountain we are pleased to offer the following dates for courses this winter:

Friday 6th Feb 2015
Friday 13th Feb 2015
Friday 20th Feb 2015

Further dates to come for February including more weekday courses if there are groups and demand

These are £40 per person with shovel, probe and beacon free to try for folk who don't have their own. I may have some demo beacons which you can try. While there won't be a lot of free skiing, we will be skiing about during scenarios and there is the chance of a quick blast at lunch and at the end of the hill training before meeting to debrief at the Cafe Ossian. I hope to be able to organise lift passes at a special rate. This is an avalanche avoidance course with beacon training following the teaching format of BCA's 101 system.
  • Weather snow and meteo
  • Avalanche release
  • Victim triggered avalanche: Snap, Crackle and Pop
  • Avalanche Forecast Interpretation 
  • Pre trip planning and pre depart Beacon checks
  • 4 "A"'s  of planning and slope assessment
  • Slope assessment the 3 "C"s before you drop in 
  • Beacon Searching 101: Three phases of a search, including signal spike, antenna orientation and smart antenna technology, Micro Search Strips/3 circle, Mark/Flagging Pitfalls and Problems
  • Probing 101: Including radial probing during pinpoint
  • Digging 101: Strategic shoveling and conveyor shoveling
  • Victim recovery:  Triple "H"
This training meets the basic log book requirement for avalanche level 1 for the British Association of Ski Patrollers

I can supply Ortovox and Back Country Access equipment. If you buy a Beacon (transceiver) from me I am more than happy to run a free familiarty session up the hill. While there may be cheap deals "online" you won't be buying from someone who knows the strengths and weak points of various beacons, who has been at the sharp end of victim recovery and can offer proffessional advice and training on the slopes.

Pre Season Avalanche Safety Offers

Transceivers (Avalanche Beacons)
Ortovox Zoom+  £159  A good basic 3 antenna beacon

Ortovox 3+  £225 New model with software upgrade and mark feature.  3 antenna with smart antenna technology

Ortovox Zoom+ Safety Box (Badger Shovel, Economic 240 Probe & Zoom+ Beacon) £216
Tracker DTS £160 Only 2 Antenna but still superfast.

Tracker 2 £225 The fastest and best beacon, simple, reliable and 5 star IMHO. 3 antenna and SP mode

Tracker 3 £265  Small 3 antenna beacon with big picture view and signal suppression

ARVA “Neo” £225 The Neo is a fast 3 antenna beacon with mark feature. Scored 5/5 in recent Beacon Reviews test
Ortovox “Beast”  £43

BCA B1 Ext £49 Cracking shovel that extends, digs well and is good for snow profiles

B2 Ext £54 Bigger blade than the B1 and also excellent
Ortovox Economic 240 £35 A good enough simple probe for those on a budget

Ortovox HD pfa 240 £55  Better, stronger and recommended if your serious

BCA Stealth 240 £54 Very fast deployment with the legendary BCA quality

BCA Stealth 270 £59 As above but even stronger and longer this is the one for when the shit hits the fan as a professional

BCA Stealth 300 £64 Strong, long and fast to deploy this is best for search and rescue teams dealing with deep burials.

All the above come from a Scottish distributor (me) and with the manufacturer warranty.  I am a listed BCA avy educator, ortovox safety academy and pro member of the American avalanche association. You have a problem I will sort it.  As an add on benefit, I am happy to do some free basic beacon training at one of our sponsored training parks.  I can move a little on price for larger single orders. I am happy to take orders up the hill to Glencoe in season but will charge some P&P at a token rate for posting and standard parcel force for large orders.

email me on

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Signal Overlap & "Marking"

I thought it worth re posting this little experiment I did with a Canadian SOS F1 (re boxed Ortovox) analogue with a couple of digital beacons pre season. Always worth being aware of these little glitchy things!

If you have a beacon with a "mark" feature beware of signal overlap. Listen to the audio signals from this old analog beacon. Analog is good for demonstrating signal overlap because of the audio picking up and letting you hear all signals. This short home experiment I did illustrates overlap, as two pulses merge to become one for a time.  Imagine you have four vehicles on a track. One travelling at 20mph, one at 30, one at 40 and one at 50mph.  At some point all 4 would be in line and seem as one. So like the vehicles the more beacons on transmit the more chance of signal overlap.  There is a risk when you "mark", that you mark two as one therefore missing one victim, or more if its a really big scenario.  Manufacturers try and address this by varying the pulse rate. Imagine what would happen in a large group with the same Beacon pulsing at the same rate!  But - there is a limit to how much they can do this before performance is affected. Therefore there is still very realistic possibility of synchronisation of the signal and marking two. Click this link also:

Signal overlap is more frequent with 3 and even more with 4 beacons. For that reason on training session limit your transmitting beacons to less than 4 as you might confuse them. Establishing as soon as possible how many are in a party, how many have beacons, and how many victims are left out off the tip can help the rescue leader establish if the search is compromised and the searchers can try and separate any overlapping signals.

Many folk have failed the North American ski guide test because of signal overlap. The test usually consists of one fairly easy to find beacon and two that are in close proximity. It's these two close proximity that can catch folk out. For this reason its safer to use a simple 3 antenna beacon and search in micro strips or if its flat the DAV three circle method.  I have an obvious vested interest being a BCA retailer but hope I am being objective. I find the Tracker 1 and 2 both superior for this type of test with the SP mode invaluable.

I can't say much about Pieps which is the only make I have not tested but have seen in action in multiples and it does well. The Barryvox pulse has great advanced features especially with V 3.04 software but seems to want you to stop and stand still a lot. The one beacon that does really well is the ARVA "Neo" and is the only one with a mark feature which I have found reliable in mark/flagging. Like all of the beacons with this feature you need to be aware of overlap.  However if you want a beacon with that feature its a remarkably well priced beacon at £225 from me.

Obviously I am in the market to sell transceivers but you can see the Neo's 5 star review here
A very reliable avalanche beacon with a mark feature and a very good price indeed at £225. 5* Rating

It beats a lot of more highly priced rivals hands down. Oddly the guts of the Neo are made by Barryvox, so its from a reliable and long standing company with technical expertise so it seems off pitching it against the Mummut branded Barryvox Pulse.  Yet it performs the basic functions better in my opinion. The Pulse is possibly more aimed at rescuers with it's many advanced features such as "Rescue Send" etc

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Buried Alive - Assumptions & Optimal Procedures During Excavation

Please note these are the blog authors take on the findings, proposals and often hypothetical conclusions of some research papers from ISSW 2014. These are scientific presentations, and while often dry, more often as not drive the best practise we then follow as rescuers. The presenters are the best there is, so it’s worth taking heed. These are just snippets as the papers are quite detailed so I have tried to take out the pertinent bits.

Buried Alive: Examining Assumptions Concerning Prolonged Burials and Avalanche Rescue - Savage, Atkins, O’Connor, Recco AB, St Lukes Hospital Idaho

Abstract “We review the environmental and physiological factors contributing to survival during prolonged burial and emphasise that rescuers must operate urgently until victims are recovered and physically examined.  We then examine the role and frequency of “small team rescuers”: rescuers who are neither part of the involved party nor professionals but play integral roles. We propose a holistic systems based approach to avalanche rescue that incorporates individual small team and professional segments in a non linear collaborative model”

Some stuff to follow up on such as Gibert and Oberfarmers papers from 2008 where some victims of profound hypothermia and prolonged resuscitation made a full neurologic recovery. Also accidents with fully buried victims but no fatalities often go unreported and are under represented in the statistics likely producing a bias towards poor survival for given burial durations (Haegli et al 2011)

The paper uses a case study of a 2014 multi victim burial in the Sawtooth region of Idaho where 3 of 4 fully buried victims survived prolonged burials. Heads were buried at an average depth of 30cm. Two self recovered after 45 and 60 mins and the third was recovered by two other snowmobilers after they had made it to the trail head, got a lift to a café and got the impromptu rescuers back to the scene on their sled recovering the victim at 105 mins since burial.

The above survivors reported a crushing sensation on their chests and were initially unable to breath but overtime managed some wiggle space. Their airways were not packed by snow. The authors hypothesise that the burial environment in the upper 30-50cm of debris may differ significantly from deeper portions of the debris in some avalanches, resulting in delayed onset of asphyxia and increased probability of surviving. Hard slab avalanches being less dense offer pore space and air channels between blocks and free air from the surface getting rid of CO2 by diffusion and effusion.

Some conclusions: “A buried person who is alive at 35mins has a relatively stable chance of being alive at 60. Experience shows that rescuers searching the scene beyond 30mins show a slowing of speed and intensity assuming its becoming a body recovery. The authors conclude that victims are alive until proven otherwise and that avalanche rescue would be well served to follow a holistic systems based approach that applies multiple strategies and tactics integrating individual, small team and professional segments in a non linear collaborative model.  Avalanche educators should include information and training on how companions, small teams and professionals should interact with each other.

Bloggers conclusion: Companion rescue and thorough beacon and surface search while simultaneously getting professionals called and accessing other skiers or climbers to help search and poke holes,  Dogs and Recco should always be mobilised as an avalanche is a medical emergency and all means to aid recovery utilised. Non linear is the posh way of saying get everyone who can to go help at the scene, and "collaborative" is not turning it into a pissing competition of MRT vs Ski Patrol or everyone vs SARDA.  Use all means, no one is dead unless they have obvious fatal trauma or airway obstruction, keep the search momentum going, and as a personal view for Scotland make sure the EMRS are alerted so the unresponsive victim gets early ALS and transport to a re-warming centre with ECMO

Survival Chance Optomised Procedures in Rescue and How to minimise Injuries during Excavation - Manuel Genswein

Abstract: "In companion rescue as well as in the start-up phase of organised rescue, shortage of rescue resources are very likely if multiple buried subjects / patients are present. Therefore, not everyone can be excavated or medically taken care of simultaneously. Triage strategies give advice on the most survival change optimised sequence of actions in order to provide “greatest good for the greatest number”. The remote reverse triage criteria give guidance on most likely areas of survival and the sequence of excavation. The now proposed AvaLife strategy supports the rescuers concerning remote and local triage, in particular the critical phase when some patients are already excavated while others are still fully buried. The last phase of rescue and excavation in immediate vicinity of the buried subject is often the most time consuming part of the entire rescue effort. The combination of close proximity and the general urgency of the situation may lead rescuers to overlook the potential for unnecessary stress for the buried subject. During the excavation of a buried subject, mechanical impact to the body of the buried person may lead to injuries, compromise a potential respiratory cavity, compromise breathing by inhibiting thorax motion/decompression etc. Whereas the likelihood for the imposed impact to lead to fatal consequences is marginal, precautions to limit the chance and extent of impact should be taken as long as they do not compromise the goal of saving the life of the buried subject in a single burial accident or saving as many lives as possible in a multiple burial event. This comprehensive summary outlines the considerations to be taken into account for a wide range of influence factors such as burial time, burial depth, snow hardness, availability of rescue resources as well as the interface to the first medical assessment"

Avalife Basic Triage
Quite a detailed paper with much of the algorithm already in place with ICAR so folk will already be familiar with them.  Not much is really new as rescuers already know this stuff and these type of algorithms are hard to remember in a blizzard but never the less there is a lot of sense here.  Reverse Triage when there is limited manpower so that you help the ones you can dig out first for example.  Also a nice reminder in the paper about not chopping up the patient.  Another paper I read recently had looked into PTSD in avalanche victims and many said being dug out was the scariest and most alarming part. Worth bearing in mind that at the other end of the shovel you might seem like a mad axe man trying to chop them up and inappropriately moving and hurting the victim. Another very useful mention was of full CPR.  Avalanche victims need oxygen and to get rid of excess CO2 so need ventilation.  Compression only CPR is not really adequate.
Avalife Advanced
Have a good look at the Avalife Basic and Advanced. Any comments welcome.

I like the reminder that in organised rescue its good to have multiple probes in place so that you have a profile of the victim to dig towards.

These are just two of very many papers from ISSW 2014 which have been collated by Montana State University.  Many are hard avalanche science but the above are a couple of the more practical ones. Some of it seems self evident but its always good to see another opinion and take on the subject.