Tuesday, 10 March 2015

That 3rd Antenna

Hi folks. I thought I would make a quick post to all the many students who have done avy courses with me up at Glencoe Mountain this winter. Firstly to say thanks for coming, and I hope you enjoyed it, and secondly with a bit of tech info.
This year the beacon training park is well buried with the shallowest transmitter at 2.5m and the deepest now at 6m with some in between. Its a challenging environment for beacon searching as you have had to learn deep burial techniques which are not really part of a basic avy course. You will have noticed how much easier it is for your beacon to find the shallow burials when we hid transceivers around the area for you to find on ski.

Many of you have had to switch from search back to transmit then back to search as your beacons have locked out and stalled with the processor unable to update. Even then your "pinpoint" for probing is a large grid of about 6m square at times (depending on the buried beacon orientation). This is because of "null points". Contrary to what you will have read these do occur in 3 antenna beacons but most handle them well in shallow burials.

The 3rd antenna solves null points by switching on (most often at approx 3m as a rough average) during the close range final search when you are close to the victim.  On some models this is a circle that gets smaller with arrows pointing in out out depending on if you move in or away, or it can be the appearance of a landing strip, or just an increasing acoustic tone and volume with decreasing distance, or all of these depending on the make. Distance readings can be ok on some, or jump eratically from a small to very long range in some cases.

Regardless, all these beacons are well tried and tested and reliable, but the one you own is the one you must practice with to understand how it reacts to the different scenarios an avalanche burial might present.  This does include deep burials if you are learning more advanced skills.  At a basic level we just want you to be able to conduct a basic search from last seen point in series or in parallel and not rely on "marking" then once you have mastered the basic search patterns and recovery we introduce marking to those who have that feature. Should marking fail you have a backup search strategy to put in place.

These deep burials in the park on some ocassions are so deep that the 3rd antenna is not kicking in and therefore you are effectively operating a dual antenna beacon and getting these null points. In these situations as you will have seen, your find is limited by the length of your probe (if indeed you have a long enough probe), then deep burial techniques such as "pinpointing on a line" and systematic probing from the lowest reading point is very important. No one needs to carry probes longer than 3m but a probe of less than 240cm is perhaps too short and in any case not robust.  The latest stats show that survival of a victim is poorer at depth not because of the depth itself, just that its more digging and more time and the survival window of opportunity closes as that digging takes longer.

So folks there is nothing wrong with your beacons its just that they have been challenged as have you and I. The real thing might turn out to be easier - or might not!  The old adage of train hard fight easy has some merit. Keep practicing and get fast.

Monday, 9 March 2015


In January the French Skiing Federation decided to recommend all its 130,000 members to wear RECCO reflectors to be searchable in case of an avalanche accident. “At a low cost, the kids will always carry a locating device,” says Claude Vincendet, President of the federation’s safety commission.
In the statement the French Skiing Federation says that avalanche beacon, shovel and probe are essential but RECCO reflectors are the minimum permanent equipment to make it possible to locate an avalanche victim. With beacons and RECCO reflectors the chances increase to save lives in case of an avalanche accident.

“This is a part of the prevention work as well as talking about safety in the clubs. However, it is not a guarantee and does not exempt them from carrying an avalanche beacon. You have to learn about safety and the avalanche danger very young,” adds Vincendet, who is also president of the Sports Club of La Norma.

What are the advantages with the RECCO system?
“The fact that the RECCO reflectors are integrated in the skier’s gear, like boots, helmets, jackets, pants etc. at a low cost, the kids will always carry a locating device, and in all the ski areas the ski patrols are equipped with RECCO detectors. All the parents are unanimous, it would be a pity not to be equipped,” says Vincendet.

Are the groups equipped with beacons for avalanche rescue?
“Only exceptionally. If it’s in the program, we can book beacons for everyone at the ski school or borrow them for example from the army here in La Norma. Otherwise it is too expensive and logistically difficult to equip 60 young people. You also need to consider the management of the batteries,” says Vincendet.

According to Vincendet, the club members regularly go off-piste. He adds, “That’s a fact. The very young club members, those 7-14 year olds who grow up in a ski resort, go off-piste either together with their instructor or when they ski between two slopes, since they know the ski area well. They like it since freeride movies are very popular.”

Within the collaboration framework between French Skiing Federation and RECCO, the clubs are now offered RECCO reflectors for those cases where RECCO reflectors are not already integrated in the members’s clothing or equipment. In addition, RECCO’s safety leaflet “The Plan” will be available for the clubs.

What do you think about manufacturers who integrate reflectors into their products?
“It’s an asset, a safety parachute. That way the skier is at least searchable. Which is not the case in 50 percent of the accidents in a ski area,” says Claude Vincendet.

Several other French organizations have recommended their members use RECCO reflectors, including the French national avalanche organization ANENA (Association Nationale pour l'Étude de la Neige et des Avalanches) and the two ski school organizations ESF (Ecole Française de Ski) and ESI (L'école de ski international).

Johan Sauer, VP RECCO AB
Tel: +46 (0)70 655 95 99

RECCO® is an avalanche rescue system utilized by more than 800 rescue organizations worldwide to facilitate the rapid location of burials. The two-part system consists of a detector used by organized rescue groups and reflectors that are integrated into apparel, helmets, protection gear or boots. Together they enable directional pinpointing of a victim’s precise location using harmonic radar but are not a substitute for a transceiver. Complementary in function, the system is an additional tool that does not interfere with avalanche dogs, transceiver searches or probe lines. The RECCO® system facilitates a faster organized search and increases the chance of being found in time. RECCO AB was founded in 1983 and is owned by its founder Magnus Granhed and the publicly traded investment company Traction AB (listed on OMX Nordic Exchange Stockholm). More info on: www.recco.com