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USING YOUR Transceiver

Avoid Avalanche Accidents

Every transceiver has a different way of turning on, switching to search and indicating where the buried signal is coming from. Read the manufacturer’s instructions and learn how to operate the one you have. Put your transceiver on as soon as you make your first step onto the snow. Wear it under a layer of clothing and leave it switched on at all times. Check everyone’s transceiver is transmitting properly. Repeat this check two or three times during the day. Get one person to listen while the others file past one at a time. The last person then checks the first person’s transceiver before the party sets out. Ensure that the transceiver is more than 30cm from any cell phone or radio as these devices might interfere with the transceiver’s ability to operate effectively. Check and change you transceiver batteries regularly. Never use rechargeable batteries as the range and working life of these batteries is significantly shorter. Remove the batteries for the summer and replaced with new batteries for winter.

Have an Avalanche Safety system which includes pre-trip planning, safe travel and decision making techniques, avalanche rescue skills and equipment.

An Avalanche Transceiver Could Save Your Life You only have minutes to live if you are buried in an avalanche. If you are wearing a transceiver you have a significantly higher chance of being found quickly, but only if the people with you know what to do.


When someone has been buried in an avalanche, time is critical. Modern digital transceivers perform very well at locating the victim’s signal and it is through proficient and organised digging that precious minutes can be saved. Once the victim has been uncovered, good patient management skills will further increase the chances of survival.

Plan your trip: Seek local knowledge and ATES* ratings. Tell someone: Discuss and leave your intentions with someone you trust. www.adventuresmart.org.nz Be aware of the weather and avalanche conditions: Check advisories at www.avalanche.net.nz Know your limits: Learn to manage yourself in dangerous avalanche terrain. Take a course. Take sufficient supplies: Always carry a transceiver, shovel and probe – and regularly practice using them.

Transceivers Transceivers are electronic devices (worn by each person) that transmit a radio signal. In the event of an avalanche, searchers can switch their transceivers to search mode and follow the signal to the buried person.

For further information on avalanche safety see the Mountain Safety Council Avalanche Safety pamphlet and card available from the Mountain Safety Council. *Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES)

A range of transceivers are imported into New Zealand. All transmit on 457 kHz and are compatible with each other but differ in the way they display information and what other functions they can perform.

TRAINING The Mountain Safety Council runs 1.5 day Avalanche Awareness courses and 4 day Backcountry avalanche courses. Details are available on www.avalanche.net.nz


RESOURCES Available from www.mountainsafety.org.nz/resources Manuals: A  valanche Awareness in the NZ Backcountry Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain The Avalanche Handbook NZ Guidelines Recording Standards for Weather, Snowpack and Avalanche Observations

Other safety equipment is available that increase your chances of survival if you are caught in an avalanche. Avalungs are a ventilation device that aid in the collection of air to avoid hazardous CO2 levels and could potentially limit the chances of asphyxiation if caught in an avalanche. Avalanche airbags inflate from the top of a backpack when a rip cord is pulled, similar to the life jackets on an airplane. The effect is to float or stay near the surface of the avalanche. This reduces the severity of the effects of being in an avalanche by reducing burial depth or even preventing burial.

Pamphlets: Avalanche Rescue Avalanche Safety


Equipment: Avalanche Assessor Card Avalanche Rescue Card


Mountain Safety Council PO Box 6027 Wellington, 6141 Tel 04 385 7162, Fax 04 385 7366 Email: info@mountainsafety.org.nz




Further Safety devices


Digital transceivers convert the signal from the buried set into visual distance and direction indicators and audible signals that aid the searcher. Older analogue transceivers do not apply any enhancement to the signal; the beep you hear is the actual unprocessed signal from the transmitting set and a change in volume indicates that you are getting closer to the buried signal. The most important thing is to understand how to use the features on your transceiver and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

When should a transceiver be replaced or retired? Aside from how old it is, one of the biggest factors in deciding whether to retire your transceiver is how well has it been looked after. But as a general rule , if your transceiver is five years or older then, you should consider replacing it or at least getting an electronic diagnostic check or systems upgrade (if available). If your transceiver is older than 10 years you should stop using it, disable it and throw it away. Then replace it with a new digital model. The bottom line is that your transceiver is a life saving device requiring 100% reliability and the best way to ensure this is to service it or replace it before you really need it.

Move fast

IF YOU ARE CAUGHT IN AN AVALANCHE Yell and wave to others in group. Attempt to get out of the flow. Angle out to the side. Roll onto your back with feet down hill, swim hard and fight to remain on the surface. Insert Avalung and/or deploy airbags. Discard equipment. As the debris starts to slow, attempt to create an air pocket in front of your face. Remain calm and breath evenly.

Spiral probe pattern TEAM DIGGING

Digging is exhausting and the most time consuming part of the rescue, but an all-out effort and good technique can save precious minutes and lives. Dig as quickly as possible. Start digging about an arm and shovel length downslope of the probe and dig toward the tip of the probe. For groups with 3 or more diggers, organise the diggers into a V shape with everyone a wingspan apart and facing inward. Chop snow into blocks, then scoop and slide it back to the other diggers to clear. Rotate the diggers often. Be careful as you reach the victim.




Slow down

40m 40m 40m


= Maximum signal


Get down

(Multiple searchers)

(Single searcher)





If Your Party is involved in an Avalanche Accident

Patient Care

Stop, Think, Plan Appoint a leader to take charge of the rescue Try calling for help with cell phones/radios but keep everyone on site – DO NOT send them to get help. Time is critical and 100% effort from everybody is required for at least the first 20 minutes. Assess the site for further avalanche danger If there is a minimal risk of further avalanches then proceed with the search but limit the number of people exposed to the risk, have escape routes and a lookout (if possible). If the risk is too great, abandon the search and send for help. Assess who is missing Talk to any witnesses and establish the last seen area. From this you can define the search area in the fall line below this point. The search area can be narrowed further by the presence of clues on the surface, such as lost gear, or terrain traps. Start the transceiver search All searchers should turn their sets to receive and ensure that everybody has done so. However, everyone must be ready to turn their sets back to transmit in case of a second avalanche. Survival of buried people depends on YOU. You may have less than 15 minutes to find and dig out the buried people.


signal Signal Search – Move fast You are trying to find the buried person’s signal.

Use a 40 metre search strip width in order to pick up the buried person’s signal. All electronic devices such as cell phones or radios should be turned off or have at least 50mm separation from the transceiver to avoid interference.



Coarse search – Move as fast as possible

Fine Search – Slow down and get down

You have heard the signal and are trying to narrow the likely burial spot down to a small area.

You have identified a small area and are looking for the place to probe and dig.

Follow the indicators on your transceiver. Once your transceiver indicates that you are 10 metres away from the buried victim, slow down.

Look at the avalanche path for visual clues as you search. Swiveling your transceiver right and left and tilting it up and down helps you orientate it with the field lines being transmitted from the buried set, and so assist your search. When you pick up a signal, shout SIGNAL to inform the rest of the searchers and follow the indicators on your transceiver. If there are other people buried, the initial search should continue while one rescuer follows through to the next phase (Coarse search).


When you are within 3 metres of the buried person, start moving very slowly and systematically. Get down on your hands and knees and with your transceiver close to the snow, move it along the surface in a straight line. The signal should usually get stronger before weakening. Keep going until the signal weakens then go back to the area of the strongest signal. Keeping your set oriented the same way, move it at right angles to your first line until the signal fades away. Then move back in the opposite direction until you find the strongest signal again. Repeat to the other side of the strongest signal.



Pinpointing with a Probe Use your probe to find the buried person and their depth of burial. Start from the point with the strongest signal and probe 25cm apart in an outward spiral. Be systematic and precise. The probe should always be perpendicular (90°) to the snow surface. Once the victim has been struck, leave the probe in place. If you don’t have a probe, start digging and use further fine searching with the transceiver from within the hole to find the victim. Only use the marking function once you have a confirmed strike.

Mark the spot and start pinpointing with a probe.


Good patient management skills will greatly increase the chances of survival. Gently clear their face and airway as fast as possible (note if they had a clear airway as medics will want to know this), then dig around their chest. Assess patient – ABCs. Start artificial respiration (mouth-to-nose) if breathing has stopped. A pulse may be difficult to detect due to cold, the position of the patient and their clothing. If circulation has stopped, start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (30:2 pumps to breaths) and continue resuscitation until a medical professional takes over. Ensure that the patient is completely clear of the debris before trying to move them and do so as slowly and gently as possible. Treat any injuries/shock/hypothermia. Prevent further cooling. Turn the person’s transceiver off as soon as you can if searching is underway for other buried people. Watch and take care of the victim very carefully. Evacuate to medical facility.

Searching for Multiple Burials If multiple burials are spread out, search as if for a single buried person. For multiple burials in close proximity, overlapping field line patterns make it impossible to follow a specific line. Use a search pattern with a 2.5 m search strip width. Concentrate on any increase or decrease of the distance indicator, respective to the volume. When you pick up a signal from a buried set do not try to be exact, instead use a probe to find the buried people.

Profile for New Zealand Mountain Safety Council

ARP - Avalanche Rescue Pamphlet  

ARP - Avalanche Rescue Pamphlet