Practice Avalanche Rescue
Using The AIARE Framework can help your group make good decisions in avalanche terrain and avoid involvement with an avalanche. But traveling in the backcountry is not without risk; groups can make mistakes. For this reason, every time you ride in the backcountry, properly carry your avalanche rescue equipment and be prepared to use it.
Riding in the backcountry means riding in areas that are remote from emergency services and generally isolated from any type of rapid response from rescue groups. If someone from your party is buried in an avalanche, the victim has just minutes before they will succumb to asphyxia. This means outside help is not an option, and the buried partner is relying on you for rescue.
On average, 53% of fully buried avalanche victims die. The chance of surviving a complete burial decreases significantly after 10 minutes. In North America, the chance of survival in an avalanche is further reduced by the increased incidence of major trauma. In fact, one quarter of avalanche fatalities are due to traumatic injuries, not from asphyxiation.
If the victim is fully buried, consider the following. A three-foot deep burial (less than average) requires moving at least 2,500 pounds of snow. A six-foot deep burial requires moving at least 10,000 pounds of snow. Responders have minutes to get the job done, and still have the compounding factors of keeping the rescuers safe, challenging communication, deposition zone access, rescue skills, and the overwhelming stress of a dying partner. If it is not clear yet, avalanche rescue is not something you want to ever have to do.
Practicing avalanche rescue is rehearsing for an unlikely, but possible, emergency situation. Learn how to best conduct an avalanche rescue by taking an Avalanche Rescue Course. To keep your skills sharp and make sure you are reinforcing the correct habits, frequently review this avalanche rescue section, practice throughout the season, and regularly retake the Avalanche Rescue Course to gain experience working with others in realistic scenarios and receive coaching from experienced professionals.
Cover these three areas of skill each time you Practice Avalanche Rescue:
• How to respond if you are caught in an avalanche
• How to organize avalanche rescue with teammates
• How to care for and evacuate an injured party from the backcountry
It is important to evaluate your avalanche rescue skills to make sure you are reinforcing correct habits and continuing to improve skills you may infrequently use. You want to be able to employ your skills efficiently in coordination with your team. As noted earlier, the chance of survival decreases significantly after 10 minutes. Timing your practice gives you an indication of how effective your skills would be in a real life incident response. Practice and time your skills to ensure you are able to recover a target buried at least 3 feet deep in 10 minutes or less.
The bottom line is that avalanche rescue is a daunting and challenging task. The upside is that training can improve response outcomes. As an example, the highly trained guides of heli-ski company Canadian Mountain Holidays have an average response time of 8 minutes. That skill and efficiency comes from regular practice and training.