The Alpine Club of Canada - Vancouver Section
Thu, Feb 14 2013 - Avalanche Gear; Orientation & Practice for Beginners (View Original Event Details)

Event Leader(s): Rob Brusse
Participants:Rob Brusse, Pam Johnson, Jim Milne, Scott Black, Raz Peel, Spartak K, Kyeema Burns, Philipp Zerbe, Soleil Onoya, Scott Baker, Phyllis Mallett, Vincent Perraud, Marcus Tomlinson, Joanne Machin, Mazy Baker

Write Up:

Avalanche Gear Orientation, Practice and Training for Beginners.

Recently Rob Brusse with the assistance of Marcus Tomlinson of the Vancouver Section of ACC, hosted an orientation and training evening event at Mount Seymour in North Vancouver. It was geared towards people new to the use of avalanche equipment and practices. This event was not intended to replace AST-1, Avalanche Skills Training Level 1, which is recommended. Instead it was intended to offer a basic orientation to the gear, its use and then apply it in the field.

ACC has found that in the past that quite a few folks would turn up to the back country events with the correct gear but often had never so much as used it or had used it but many years ago. ACC realized that this is not “best practices” for back country sports and Rob Brusse decided to offer a basic avalanche gear orientation, practice and training for beginners.

Required equipment: Avi beacon, probe and shovel. Some people brought their own gear, others rented from MEC (very inexpensive). Going forward ACC has purchased some avi kits from Gear 3 (beacons, probes and shovels) that they will be able to offer on a first come, first serve basis as required for members embarking on an ACC back country event.

The first 1.5 – 2 hours was spent in lecture format where Rob educated the attendees in the use of the all of the products.
Probes: practiced assembly of our probes. Things to consider when purchasing, length, weight, speed of assembly and durability
Shovels: No plastic shovels. Light metal alloy shovels should be hardened to 6061 T. Collapsible handle needs a sufficient overlap. Some come with saw stored inside handle which is convenient for shaping shelters. D grip considered easier to use than T, especially if you wear mittens.
Beacons: wear under jacket but over clothing layers so it doesn’t get ripped off in you are in avalanche. Transmitter should be a near as head as possible. Practiced to see how they worked and behaved.
Some guidelines and best practices to keep in mind that don’t always occur to people
1. Always bring spare batteries. A fresh set should last the entire season for the average person (or about 40 service hours).
2. Keep beacon transmitters at least 12 inches away from headlamps, ice axes, cell phone (if on), head and chest cameras, as they interfere with the transmission
3. Team members should familiarize themselves with the use of each other’s avalanche kit gear in advance to ensure everyone is comfortable using someone else’s gear in the event if necessary.
4. Ensure shovel and probe are easily accessible on packs
5. Test all team members beacons each morning before heading out to ensure all beacons are working properly
6. Digital beacons only are allowed on ACC events. (Analogue no longer allowed)
7. Prepare when entering specific avalanche area. Secure your clothing, zip up everything, close boot buckles, take straps off skis (if you use them), off your wrists (poles), undo straps on knapsack. If you get caught in avalanche you have less gear to weight you down.
8. Ensure everyone in team is spread out so that there is a good distance in traverse. Keep an eye on each person as they traverse.
We then proceeded outdoors onto Mount Seymour for field practice, where we were divided into 2 groups for ease of practice. Marcus headed up one group and Rob, the other. Three avalanche rescue simulations, per team were done. Rob and Marcus would head up the mountain and bury either a pack or a jacket that held a beacon, in the snow. Then the leader would come back, call out avalanche and the team would go through the process.
Key to remember: (90% survival if found within 10 minutes)
Plan: Group huddles, ensures if terrain is safe to make a rescue, single or multi search, or if they can call for help etc.. One person (leader) points roles for each member. Everyone switches on their beacons to receive mode (30 seconds). For these purposes we were doing single rescue only.
Search: We started searching using our beacons and calling out our readings to everyone. Once it was clear that one person had the strongest reading, team headed to that one area to keep searching.
As readings got stronger, that person would hold beacon lower to snow while a couple of people got their probes out and ready and a couple of others would get their shovels ready. Once it was determined that a probe most likely hit a body, the shoveling began.
In the first rescue, it was very clear that most team members were disorganized and a bit confused due to the urgency of the situation and newness with the gear. Probes weren’t assembled properly, people started shoveling too early and in the wrong way, team members were too close to each other and getting in each other’s way. With regards to the beacons, when someone gets that strong signal, low to the ground it’s key to move it slowly to ensure it has time to adjust the reading as you ensure that you have an idea of where the body actually is. In the end, you want to get to the mouth and nose first. We rushed that part and didn’t give the beacon a chance to adjust. While the eventual rescue did happen within approximately 8 minutes, a great deal of time was wasted in the rescue.
The second rescue went smoother but one thing we learned is, where possible keep an eye on the victim as they are caught in the avalanche so that you have an idea where they may have landed. Don’t assume they are buried. We found the second “victim” in a tree.
The final and third rescue was the smoothest of all and the victim was rescued within a couple of minutes.
Some key points to note:
Practice really does make perfect. Teams should ensure they do this before heading out, more than once. This will also alleviate some of the “panic” mode behavior that will occur during an urgent situation. Make no assumptions and ensure all members of your team have practiced and are familiar with the use of the gear. Your life may depend on it.
One member of team A had an analogue beacon. We discovered that an analogue beacon can be just as efficient and effective at locating a buried victim if the member is experienced at using this beacon (as he was in this case) as those member who were less experienced and were using digital beacons. Again, practice is the best teacher.
One caveat to that is that the person with the Analogue beacon was unable to shout out any readings to the other team members while in search mode. This can result in the delay of getting these other members to that person in order to proceed with the actual extraction.
This was a great introduction to avalanche gear and training. This should be a minimum mandatory step for all people before heading outdoors in the winter and would be a good refresher at the beginning of each season for anyone.
Full avalanche courses are recommended always.
Thanks to Rob Brusse and Marcus Tomlinson. Avi Gear Orientation sessions are offered throughout the winter months and free to members. Check the ACC-Vancouver iCal and be sure to sign up if you haven’t done so already and if there is still room.

Have some photos from this event that you'd like to share in our photo album? Please forward them to Kayla Stevenson at Please note that we prefer to receive the photos in approximately 640x480 or 750x500 pixels - do NOT send original high-res photos. If you have a LOT of photos, please submit up to twenty of your favorites (only) for a day event, or up to forty of your favourites for a multi-day event. Thank you.

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