Monday, December 12, 2011

Avalanches - Take Note

Summit County: Efficiency in avalanches

According to Swiss “beacon expert,” Manuel Genswein, guide companies can rely on their guests to rescue them from an avalanche — if they're taught properly.
It was part of a two-day public avalanche rescue training at Copper Mountain hosted by the Summit County Rescue Group, the Summit County Sheriff's Office, and Copper Mountain. Genswein spent several hours lecturing ski patrollers, rescue group volunteers and trainers, and the interested public on Friday, reviewing beacon technology history as well as practical training techniques. On Saturday, he exercised the group's application skills in the field.
Genswein's focus was effective training and streamlined practice. Many of his points came back to meticulous training, including being a strict trainer who corrects mistakes immediately. Being a well-oiled machine makes for an effective rescuer, he pointed out.
Genswein addressed the time crunch that prohibits guides from running through basic avalanche safety with guests. He said many guides claim a guest would be unsuccessful in performing a beacon search, locating a victim or victims, and digging them out in a reasonable amount of time, even with basic instruction. So Genswein did a study.
He found that guide service clients, at the median age of 53, could recover a burial in 4 minutes, 20 seconds at the best, and 22 minutes, 30 seconds at the worst. Men aged 73 and up, another clientele demographic, performed the simulated rescue in nearly 7 minutes at their best and 27 minutes at their slowest.
That was after giving them a fine-tuned 15-minute tutorial on avy basics.
“Even though you only have a quarter hour of time, you can be very efficient,” Genswein said, noting that streamlined instruction must also be coupled with the best and easiest to use equipment. According to Genswein, the added bonus of teaching novices avalanche basics, is that they enjoy it. The clients in his study enjoyed themselves — even though they were digging into bottomless powder instead of skiing it.
John Reller, a Chicago Ridge snowcat guide at Ski Cooper, said as he listened, he considered ways he could change his own safety talk. Given more equipment, he might cover the more detailed 15-minute training, he added.
“The more people who know how to use the tools correctly, the better off we all are,” he said.
Genswein has done several of these studies, which take a look at how training can impact backcountry safety.
In another study, he found that giving three 45-minute modules in companion rescue can be highly effective. A four-burial situation was cleared in about 36 minutes with the short course.
Genswein said that the key in any sort of training is to teach how to be systematic.
“This is the key to success in mountain rescue,” he said, pointing out that eager participants who chaotically searched the debris field were far less effective than those who were systematic.

Taking it to the field
Being systematic and therefore effective was the theme of Saturday's beacon field workshop, too.
For new Arapahoe Basin ski patroller Greg Dumas, Genswein's course took his personal and basic professional knowledge to the next level.
“What I found valuable was that it was geared more toward experienced users,” Dumas said, adding it was helpful to have the rundown of beacon history and how technology has evolved, as well as getting international insight on avalanche rescue concepts.
With five stations set up that involved local professionals, the field course catered to novices as well as advanced professionals. Novices learned and asked questions while the advanced folks taught.
Dumas called the Friday and Saturday tutorial “professional development,” which was helpful. It was also helpful to interact with the broader professional community of which he's now a part.

Courtesy Summit Daily News