Analysis of data collected by the Swiss Avalanche Institute and a survey conducted by BCA is North America (97 respondents who have completed real world rescues) have highlighted some interesting issues in transceiver rescues.
- When talking about the issues faced nobody mentioned the actual avalanche transceiver they were using. It would seem that all modern digital transceivers work well enough for there not to be a problem. Sure, some work better in a certain scenarios than others but most of them work well enough. Do not obsess about which model to buy, go with our or the recommendation of someone you trust.
- The biggest problem was rogue signals in the search area. It is vital that someone takes control of the search and gets everybody into search mode and that they stay that way during the search so as to not confuse things. Search mode is better than off because of the risk of secondary avalanches. Beware of auto revert features confusing things midway through the search.
- Burial Depth is key. Burial depth and shovelling time are closely linked and avoiding total burial or reducing depth, massively increases your chance of survival. Looking at the shape of a potential run out slope will give an indication as to burial depth, the more space the better but the avalanche airbag is the thing that really makes a difference. Of 180 people who deployed airbags in avalanches (up to 2008) only 3 died. Effective shovelling strategy can also save more time than any improvement in transceiver search technique, as this has no cost, it has the greatest potential for global time saving.
- The companion rescue (by a member of your own party) had the highest percentage of survival. The lower percentage in non companion rescues is mainly due to the delay in arrival of help. Data suggests that 40% of successful companion rescues are not reported so overall there are lots of successful companion rescues taking place and it should always be considered as the only help that will be available.
- Evacuation and First Aid skills were a factor in a third of all the incidents. If you are close to a ski area then help may come but otherwise you will probably have to give first aid and evacuate an injured person yourself. Even those who practise avalanche rescue do not often practise what will happen after the rescue. The more remote your touring the less chance you have of timely outside assistance.
- Multiple burials are not a big issue. Less than 5% of avalanches involve complete multiple burials. Of those incidents most can be dealt with as a series of individual rescues because the victims are sufficiently far apart to not confuse each other. Most of your training time should be devoted to what is most likely to happen. The most likely situation is a single burial where the victim is fairly easy to locate but takes a while to dig out and then needs further care.