Ski Patrollers: Become a cliff rescue expert.

Avalanche Rescue—Transceiver Fine 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 "fine search" begins when the distance displayed on your transceiver during the coarse search is approximately three meters. (On all modern transceivers, the directional indicator will stop displaying at two or three meters.) The goal of the fine search is to get as close to the victim as possible.

The fine search is not difficult, but it is undeniably the portion of the transceiver search that requires the most practice and where most people struggle.

The following instructions explain the fine search. The video on this page demonstrates the process.

To perform a fine search:

  1. Take off your skis and get on your knees. You need to be nimble and close to the surface of the snow.

  2. Hold your transceiver just above the snow.
    • Keep your transceiver the same height above the snow throughout the fine search. Raising it even slightly (i.e., the length of a cigarette) will cause the displayed distance to change.
    • Do not rotate your transceiver during the fine search. It should remain pointing in the direction it was at the end of the coarse search.

  3. Slowly move your transceiver forward in the direction you were heading during the coarse search until the distance undeniably increases.
    • A single increase in the distance is not "undeniable." You should continue moving your transceiver forward until the distance increases two or three times.

  4. Move your transceiver back to the lowest distance.
    • Remember to keep your transceiver pointing the same direction and the same height above the snow.

  5. Slowly move your transceiver to the right (or left) until the distance undeniably increases.

  6. Slowly move your transceiver in the opposite direction (i.e., left or right) as the distance decreases and then undeniably increases.

  7. Move back to the lowest number. This is the point where you will begin probing.

  8. Mark this point clearly in the snow.
    • If you have your ski poles, the best approach is to stick a pole into the snow, grip first, so you won't lose the location where you found the shortest distance. You can then probe around your ski pole.
    • If you don't have a ski pole, considering marking the spot by punching your fingers into the snow to create an obvious mark. (Of course, it is easy to lose sight of this mark by mistakenly stepping on it when you are deploying your probe.)
    • Some rescuers suggest marking the spot using a glove or hat. Others point out that it is easy for the item to get bumped. You decide.

  9. Stow your transceiver before you begin probing.
    • Take the ~10 seconds to secure your transceiver so it won't get it the way when you are probing and shoveling. Options include stowing it in its harness, in a nearby pocket, or by dropping it down your jacket's collar.
    • In most cases, you should leave your transceiver in search mode. Its incessant beeping may be annoying, but remaining in search mode will prevent confusion if other rescuers are searching for a second victim. Staying in search mode will also save time if you need to repeat the fine search.
    • Keep in mind that it is easy to unintentionally switch some transceivers from searching to sending when you stow it (e.g., by bumping the end of a Tracker 2).

Fine Search Tips:

  • Only one rescuer is needed for the fine search. Additional rescuers should begin assembling their probes and shovels. If there are multiple victims and more than enough rescuers, the additional rescuers should begin a multiple burial search.
  • Keep your transceiver pointing the same direction throughout the fine search. Don't inadvertently rotate it as you move forward/backward and left/right.
  • Keep your transceiver the same height above the snow. If you raise or lower it, the displayed distance will change.
  • You may find it helpful to scratch a line in the snow when the displayed distance decreases. You'll then end up with a "box" drawn in the snow.
  • If your transceiver has fewer than three-antennas (e.g., a Tracker DTS), you may find more than one location on the snow surface that displays a low distance reading. These are spikes. If this occurs, simply do the fine search as described on this page until you find a low reading and begin probing at that location.

Novices typically move too quickly during the fine search and then waste a lot of time repeating the forward/backward, left/right bracketing. If you do the fine search slowly and methodically, the bracketing can be done once. The entire fine search should take less than 60 seconds.

Watching the video at the top of this page will help you understand the fine search process.