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PREPARE FOR THE WORST - Jane Peel, Chief Reporter
Monday November 5, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

If you go off piste, now's the time to prepare. We've been honing our avalanche rescue skills in the wilds of, er, Wimbledon.





You arrive in the mountains, there's powder and you can't wait to head outside the marked runs.

Here's a series of questions for you.

Are you ready?

Of course you're ready.

But are you properly prepared?

Do you have a shovel, probe and transceiver?

And - just as important - do you know how to use them should the worst happen?

If the answer to any of those questions is ‘no', then you should forget about heading off piste.

If the answer is ‘yes', here's another one for you.

When was the last time you actually practised the skills you need to find someone buried in an avalanche?

Maybe you think you don't need to.

But if we told you that even piste patrollers practise regularly - some tell us they do so every week - would you think again?

Avalanche rescue trainingAvalanche rescue training - photo Hansi Heckmair/Ortovox















The good news is that this month the respected on-snow safety organisation Henry's Avalanche Talk (HAT) has begun a series of transceiver training sessions.

They will run in the both the UK and the Alps into January 2019.

We went along to one run by Chris Radford of HAT on a cold, sunny day at Wimbledon Common in South London.

Chris Radford & Jane PeelHAT's Chris Radford & PlanetSKI's Jane Peel on Wimbledon Common


















He explains that the main aim of the session is to ensure participants go away confident they can locate a buried victim within 5 minutes.

There's a good reason for that.

As long as the victim has not suffered serious trauma from being caught in the slide, the evidence shows that he or she has a 95% chance of surviving if dug out within 15 minutes.

"If they haven't gone over a cliff, banged into a tree or hit a rock, they'll just be buried," he says.

"Then it depends on the amount of air around their mouth. The people who survive a long time are in a big air pocket.

"Your mate's best chance is a self-contained rescue because it's going to take the rescue services more than 15 minutes to get there.

"That's why the beeper, shovel and probe are the holy trinity."

Chris Radford tells us more of the dos and don'ts of off piste:


At the start of our three-hour session, Chris explains how to use the transceivers, or beepers, and how the different stages of the search should be carried out.

Transceiver trainingTransceiver training















Transceiver trainingTransceiver training















Transceiver trainingTransceiver training
















He's buried six transceivers in the undergrowth at different spots on the Common.

Working in pairs, we have to find the ‘victims', ideally doing so quicker each time.

Transceiver trainingOff into the wilds of Wimbledon














Transceiver trainingClosing in on the buried 'victim'
















Then, we are shown how to use our Ortovox transceivers to locate multiple victims.

It's easy to get confused by the separate signals coming from each buried victim.

We can't practise probing for or digging out a victim on Wimbledon Common - that might not go down too well.

But our group, who've all practised several times before - are reminded how it should be done.

We also discuss the simple checks you should do before heading off piste.

HAT off piste checklistHAT off piste checklist
















The last one on the list - 'human factors' - are the sort of things that can lead to fatal misjudgments.

They include but are not limited to:

  • assuming a slope is safe because there are ski tracks
  • following your friends because they're more experienced and must know what they're doing
  • ignoring the potential risk because it's the first time in ages there's been powder

This was my first practical training session of the season and I can thoroughly recommend it to get you ready for winter.

Next up is some practice on snow.

Avalanche trainingAvalanche rescue training - photo Hansi Heckmair/Ortovox














The mountains are a wild and unpredictable environment but we can, at least, reduce the risk by being prepared.

Here's wishing you a safe and happy winter!

Transceiver training groupOur group with Chris Radford on Wimbledon Common















HAT has a full programme of training including talks, transceiver training and on-snow courses in Val d'Isere.

UK Transceiver training courses begin on Saturday 17th November 2018 with sessions running on weekends though until February 2019.

Prices: three-hour sessions start from £47.50 per person

One and three day on-snow courses based in Val d'Isère run throughout the winter season from December 2018 until April 2019.

Prices: €165 (one day course), €490 (three day course).

50% discount for 5th and 6th people if one group booking, 10% discount for bookings 3+ months in advance.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: Number One for ski news

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