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Avalanche Shoveling

No matter how good you are at searching with a transceiver, if you don't have a probe and shovel the victim will probably die—the transceiver leads to the probe, the probe leads to the shovel, and the shovel leads to the victim.

During training, it is easy to get so focused on the time that it takes to locate the transmitter that you forget that excavating the victim is the most time-consuming portion of most avalanche rescues.

Selecting a Shovel (click to expand)

Shoveling Tips

  • Leave your probe in the snow when it hits the victim. This will keep you on target and reduce the likelihood that you will be standing on the victim (who may be struggling to breathe).

  • Begin digging on the downhill side of the probe at a distance of approximately 1.5 to 2 times the burial depth (i.e. probe depth). This makes it easier to remove the excavated snow and prevents the shovelers from struggling at the bottom of a cone-shaped hole.

  • Rotate the lead shoveler every minute or two to reduce fatigue. The other shovelers should help by moving the discarded snow further downhill from the hole.

Shoveling Strategies

There are two basic shoveling strategies. Which one you choose should be based on the number of rescuers available. Companion shoveling is appropriate when there are a limited number of rescuers—typically one to four. It moves the most snow with the minimum effort. When you have more resources (aka manpower, muscle, and calories), Conveyor belt shoveling will blast through a large amount of snow rapidly.

Companion Shoveling

Companion shoveling (aka "strategic shoveling") is the technique that is used during a typical backcountry accident or when a patroller is buried while on a control route. It's most appropriate when there are a limited number of rescuers. The key principals are:

  • Begin shoveling downhill of the victim approximately 1.5 times the burial depth. This reduces the likelihood that you'll be standing on the victim and allows you to discard the excavated snow.

  • Shovel snow only once. In burials of a meter or more, the snow should be moved to the sides first to preserve the downhill side for snow when the excavation becomes deeper.

  • If there are two shovelers, shovel side by side. If there are three shovelers, have two shovelers up front and one behind clearing the additional snow.

  • Shovel ergonomically (i.e., use your entire body not just your arms, kneel whenever possible, avoid bending at the waist, etc).

Conveyor Belt Shoveling

If you have a lot of manpower, the "V-Shaped Conveyor Belt" approach to shoveling (as developed by Manuel Genswein and Ragnhild Eide) can move a large amount of snow in a relatively short amount of time.

Click the arrows on the following slideshow to move through the six slides.



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