Mountain Safety

No matter how fast your transceiver skills, locating an avalanche victim under the snow is only half the battle. Your partner’s life still hangs on how fast you can dig them out.

Historically, the average extraction time for someone buried under three feet of snow has been around 15 minutes. In hard snow or with a deep burial, extractions have been known to take up to an hour. European studies suggest 90% of avy victims buried for less than 15 minutes can be revived. Once the burial time slips past the 15 minute mark, survival rates plummet. Beyond 35 minutes, studies say only 30% survive.

Just as digital beacons have improved search times, significant research has gone into devising specialized digging strategies that speed up extraction times. The importance of understanding these rescue digging techniques can not be overstated. Finding a beacon signal and getting a positive probe strike within two minutes won’t do any good if it takes you another 20 minutes to reach your partner.

This video by Backcountry Access is a good introduction to strategic rescue shoveling. The techniques described in the video have proven to speed up extraction times considerably and especially in companion rescues (only one rescuer).

You’ll also want to check out this article about the "Snow Conveyor" digging method developed by Manuel Genswein and Ragnhild Eide. The snow conveyor method is recognized as the preferred digging strategy if you have multiple rescuers. In tests, Manuel and Ragnhild’s crew has been able to repeatedly perform two-meter extractions in rock hard snow in under 20 minutes. Read about it here.

But beyond watching videos or reading articles, the best way to learn strategic digging techniques is in a professional avalanche course. Find a course close to you in this avy course directory.

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Published on
21 December 2013
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