Avalanche accidents are confusing, tearful experiences. Executing a successful rescue requires that you control your emotions and focus on the rescue. A successful rescue begins before you leave the trailhead and continues until the rescuers and victim are safely in the frontcountry.
The keys to a successful rescue are training and practice, training and practice, and training and practice. Don't postpone it any longer. Get together with your buddies and practice. When the shit hits the fan, when your friend or lover is beat up and buried, your training will help you achieve the best possible outcome.
The following pages explain the tasks that should take place before you leave the trailhead and during and immediately after an avalanche, how to search an avalanche using an avalanche transceiver, how to locate the victim using an avalanche probe, and how to extricate the victim using a shovel. You should also take an avalanche course and read a good avalanche book.
The rescue information on these pages is quite detailed. If you are short on time or looking for a quick review, you can jump to the Avalanche Rescue Summary.
The statistics aren't in the avalanche victim's favor. They show that ~25% of avalanche victims are killed by trauma. Of those that survive, more than half will asphyxiate within the first 15 minutes. And 90% will be dead within 40 minutes. When all is said and done, only 30% of fully buried victims will survive.
This data makes your objectives clear: quickly locate the victim and access his or her airway. That said, good rescuers know that slow is smooth and smooth is fast—the best way for most of us to get faster is to slow down.
Surprisingly, in 50% of the avalanche fatalities the victims weren't wearing avalanche transceivers. That's bad news in that their deaths may have been preventable. It is good news because we can do something about it.
Avalanche rescue includes these seven steps: