Avalanche Film

Avalanches > Search And Rescue > Avalanche Film

At the start of January, 2003 we were in Val d'Isère skiing with Alpine-Experience and also making a short film about avalanche safety. Due to the wind conditions on the day the sound quality is not perfect so you may like to refer to these notes as you watch the film.

We were in the Malpasset sector of the Manchet valley, a sector that seen a number of fatal avalanches. The avalanche you see in the film is on a south facing slope of around 35 degrees, typical avalanche territory. The slide has traversed a flat section where it left a considerable amount of snow then continued down to the valley floor.

  • Given the chance of a skier being trapped in the deposit at the flat section the pitch should have been skied as two sections, with skiers waiting at a safe area, say a rock outcrop for their mates. From the bottom of the valley a climb to the intermediate section would have taken around 15 minutes, a possibly fatal delay. There are other traps in the valley floor such as hollows and the river bed, these should ring alarm bells for any group on this slope.
  • Only one skier should be on a suspect pitch at a time and the other group members should follow the skier. If an accident occurs note the point last seen (PLS), either by pointing at it or by using a reference such as a rock or tree.
  • The skier will be below this point, in all probability in a zone 60 degrees below the PLS. Rocks and trees would also be other likely points a skier may have come to rest.
  • Post avalanche organization is critical to a successful rescue. All transceivers should be set to receive mode and mobile phones (after calling the rescue services) should be switched off.
  • In the film we see both digital and analogue transceivers. They work together fine. Digital transceivers generally have a smaller range but are easier for beginners to use. There are reports that they are difficult to use with multiple victims although our Arva 9000 gave no problems.
  • Visual clues such as backpacks, skis or poles, or more obviously hands etc poking through the surface are a good point to start searching.
  • Search in a pattern either from the PLS or towards the PLS, bearing in mind the range of your transceiver criss, cross the avalanche zone until you pick up a signal.
  • It took us 5 minutes just to reach the avalanche, if we had skis and climbing skins this time would have been less but is still a critical delay.
  • Keep the avalanche zone clear of sacks and other equipment and don't pee on it, these scents will confuse avalanche rescue dogs.
  • Every member of the group should also have a shovel and probe. A recent test by the French Avalanche Research Organization (ANENA) showed that it takes 4 times longer to rescue a victim without these essential bits of equipment.
  • Probe and dig at right angles to the slope, not vertically, this is the shortest distance.
  • The probe is used to locate the victim and can give a depth indication. The latter is useful when there are multiple victims to decide your rescue priorities. In general, dig out the victim closest to the surface first, they have most chances of survival.

<< Vincendon and Henry | Search And Rescue | >>