Avalanche safety tip of the week
January 5, 2006
Those of use who travel in avalanche terrain are familiar with avalanche beacons. Avalanche beacons do not provide any measure of protection from becoming caught in an avalanche. In some cases, a beacon may increase our ability to survive an avalanche if we are not already dead from blunt trauma by the time the snow stops moving. If travel partners are well practiced, there may be some degree of hope that the buried individual is uncovered before suffocation occurs.Finding a beacon that is buried about a foot deep is fairly easy, but a deeper, more realistic burial takes significant practice to find quickly. For a more realistic practice session, bury a transmitting beacon in a backpack 3-4 feet deep on a safe 20-25 degree slope that would be representative of an avalanche runout zone. Have you partner perform a beacon search, then a fine probe search to locate the backpack, and then dig for it with your shovel.
It is worth knowing that some electronic devices can interfere with the function of an avalanche beacon. The electronic devices of concern that we often carry with us into avalanche terrain are cell phones and two way radios. Keep at least a 1 foot separation between these items and your beacon while they are on your person to prevent interference.
Brandon Schwartz is the Avalanche Forecaster for the Sierra Avalanche Center and U.S. Forest Service in the Tahoe region. Look for a new avalanche awareness or safety tip each week here in the action. For more information, please see http://www.SierraAvalancheCenter.org or call the avalanche hotline at 530-587-2158.