The second part of day one included beacon practice. We broke off into groups and practiced searching with a beacon just placed on top of the snow. Often times people have difficulties with the fact that your beacon doesn’t always take you in a straight line to your target. Typically you follow a curve and it helps to practice this and be able to see the search patterns.
On the second day we spent more time out in the field. Our first focus was testing the snowpack. We once again broke off into groups and dug pits starting down hill and working our way into the side of the hill. This is called strategic shoveling which is also used in a rescue situation. It is important to consider the burial depth and the size of the hole. When making a snow pit it is also important to have clean profile walls for better observations.
Once the snowpits where dug we started off by checking the density and the temperature of the snow. We started by punching the snow with our fists and then four fingers when it was too dense for our fists and finally one finger. A good snowpack should get denser as you move closer to the ground. We then search for visible weak layers by using a card to slide down the pit wall. Next you might check the temperature of the snow. Snow temps should be about 1 degree, a change in temps throughout the snowpack would be a “red flag”.
Next we did a compression test. Aaron will describe how this is done in the following video.
After the compression test we pe
rformed a Rutschblock Test. We cut out a block 2 meters wide with 1.5 meter spaces on either side. In the video b
elow you will see how the Rutschblock test is performed.
The second part of the day we spent doing more advanced beacon searches with the beacons buried this time. This way we were able to learn how to work in a group to make a rescue as fast as possible. One key thing is teamwork. It is important to let the first person to get a signal pinpoint the location while the rest of the team follows behind and prepares probes and shovels for the retrieval.
On the last day of the course we spent the first half of the day learning travel techniques in avalanche terrain. Learning how to avoid slopes that are between 30 and 45 degrees, which are the slopes that are ideal angles for avalanches. One important fact I was made aware of was that skiing in the trees does not keep you safe from avalanches. Trees and rocks are actually trigger points, and the more trees on a slope the higher a chance for trauma.
Weather is another important thing to be aware of when traveling in avalanche terrain. A sudden increase in temperature or winds is something to take notice of. If you do find yourself traveling in windy conditions try and avoid the leeward side. Those areas are wind loaded and you risk triggering a windslab. If you experience heavy snow or rain you should also look to find the safest route home.
This article is in no way a substitute for an avalanche course. I highly recommend taking atleast a Level 1 course. This is more of a brief overview of what you will learn. I found the course very informative and recommend you contact Mountain Adventure Seminars at www.mtadventure.com to find out more about avalanche courses.