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Avalanche Rescue—Transceiver Coarse Search

(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 "coarse search" begins when you receive a strong signal during the signal search. The coarse search consists of following your transceiver's direction indicator (i.e., the arrow or lights) while watching the displayed distance decrease. The goal of the coarse search is to get within three meters of the victim.

Flux Lines

Unfortunately, the direction indicator on your transceiver can point either toward the victim, or it can point away from the victim. The direction indicator basically aligns itself with the flux lines that are being transmitted by the victim's transmitter (shown in red in the following illustration). If the displayed distance increases as you follow the direction indicator, you need to turn around and follow the direction indicator in the opposite direction.

If that's not confusing enough, here's another catch: it is not uncommon for a transceiver to momentarily display a greater distance, only to return to a shorter distance. So if you do see the distance increase, it is best to continue walking in that direction for a few meters until it is undeniable that the distance is increasing. These extra steps will save you time.

A few transceivers can tell you to turn around if you are moving away from the victim, but these transceivers can get also confused by a momentary blip in the estimated distance. It's critical that you watch the displayed distance to gain situational awareness and that you travel several meters to confirm that the distance is increasing before you turn around. Note, too, that the displayed distance is only a rough estimate. Decreasing distances are good; increasing distances aren't.

As the distance displayed on your transceiver decreases, call out the distances in your loud "mountain voice." This improves the situational awareness for all of the rescuers. For example, if you know there is one victim and you hear a rescuer yelling, "15 meters" while your transceiver is displaying 40 meters, it might be best for you to take out your probe and shovel. If you've established a leader, the leader might hear the difference in distances and yell, "Bob, get out your probe!"

Follow the Indicator

The direction indicator will direct you to the victim by following the flux lines (shown above). This is usually a curved path, but it can be a straight line depending on the orientation of the transmitting antenna.

When the direction indicator changes direction, turn your body and the transceiver so the direction indicator is again centered at the "top" of your searching transceiver. Then continue to follow the direction indicator as it guides you to the victim.

Transceivers occasional display a random "blip" indicating that you should turn. When this happens, pause for a moment while holding the transceiver still to allow the direction indicator to stabilize. Then continue to follow the direction indicator.

If the indicator repeatedly gives conflicting directions (e.g., turn left, turn right, turn left), split the difference. The indicator will resolve the conflict as you near the victim.

The coarse search is complete when the distance displayed on your transceiver is less than three meters. (On all modern transceivers, the direction indicator will stop displaying at two or three meters. If yours doesn't, it is time to buy a newer transceiver.)

When you complete the coarse search, take off your skis (if you are still wearing them). You'll want to be on your knees for the fine search. You may find it helpful to stick one of your skis into the snow so it points in the direction you were headed at the end of the coarse search. This will help you begin the fine search in the same direction—it is very likely the victim will be along this line.

Coarse Search Tips

  • Remain calm and move deliberately—slow is smooth and smooth is fast. This is a bad time to fall and injure yourself.
  • If the displayed distance increases or decreases when you are standing still, it's likely that a searcher is unknowingly transmitting.
  • Move relatively quickly while the distance is more than 10 meters. As the distance decreases, slow down.