Avy + First Aid Training Advice
Just listened to Seth Hout’s Bombhole interview, made me realize how little help I would be in a situation like his avy story with Jeremy Jones. I haven’t put myself in those exact circumstances as I’ve only ridden at most resort “side country” but I understand shit can happen anywhere.
Best experiences with Avy classes (all levels) or first aid?
Get some friends together and test it, doesn't have to be in steep terrain or an actual avy. See what you need and what you don't, if your gear works, if you need to pack it differently, if you are fit or strong enough for a real situation. There's plenty of information in that podcast, and others to figure it out, and training vids on youtube. Otherwise I'd take a combined course for both avy and first aid from some search and rescue operation, if that exist's around you, they have been in some gnarly situations. Certificates doesn't matter unless you need it for work.
Okay, so here's my $5 worth of advice.
I wanna make a few things clear first.
1. I have my level 1 & 2 ( for what they are worth - I'll expand on this later )
2. I've been splitboarding since 1997
3. I am nowhere fucking close to being an expert or think that I am. There are PLENTY of people with a far higher degree of *snow science* knowledge and skills than I have ( for what they are worth - I'll expand on this later )
4. My PERSONAL thoughts is not to put your trust into gimmicks ( I'll expand on this later )
5. I had a personal friend and touring partner die in this avalanche. Read it.
6. I then personally located, rescued and saved someone from a full burial 6ft under, three weeks after that accident.
I don't put much initial value in classes and training. Here's the reason why. They give a whole lot of people a false sense of security. ( in my opinion - which could be wrong). You can have all the fucking training in the world but still not use good judgement.
Sure, the classes can give you the tools to use good judgement, but people either do or don't use good judgement. A person prone to making bad decisions all their life isn't going to go take one of those classes and all of a sudden do a life 180 and start making good decisions all the time. Life just doesn't work like that.
Change the question from backcountry to your everyday life. Now ask yourself how many of your friends or people you know use good judgement ALL THE TIME.
NOW, all the time may seem like to high of standard, because hey it's life right and nobody is perfect.
When it comes to the Backcountry that is the standard that must be kept, ALL THE TIME.
So, with people that exhibit great self control and judgement, classes are awesome. For people that don't exhibit great self control and judgement, classes can be great or they can actually increase danger. This is because a lot of people get a little bit of knowledge and then think they are smarter than they are.
Some people take that knowledge and do SUPER well at using best practices. Some people use the knowledge to justify taking more risks than they should ( along with gimmicks ). I see this all the time. It's is even more obvious how many people take that little bit of knowledge and justify risks in the Instagram age. The amount of posts I see here in the Wasatch on high risk days from people I know personally ( and people I don't know but just follow ) in places that nobody should be on that day is just staggering. This is not solely my opinion, it's is my touring partners that I trust opinion and the Utah Avalanche Center regularly calls this out as well in their daily forecasts.
So, when it comes to classes. They can be great, BUT I feel that if you have good reading comprehension skills that reading Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain will give you far more knowledge than the Level 1 class does. The only thing with this is that you then need to go out by yourself and explore, BUT that is gonna happen anyways, even after you take a class. This is why a lot of people take classes because they have never been out and don't know where to go. A class won't change that. That is still all gonna be on you. Buy maps, go hiking in the summer, read guide books, learn how to use a inclinometer in the summer and figure out some slopes you want to go to that winter.
Classes don't actually always yield any real productive field work. It could have not snowed in three weeks and the snowpack is rock solid so it's hard to demonstrate dangers in the class, or it could be puking snow with danger through the roof and you basically stay in the field next to the parking lot. It really can go with either way, or you MAY be lucky and have recent snow with moderate risk and the instructor is able to get you into some terrain and demonstrate some dangers and in person snowpack evaluation. It's really a crap shoot as to wether in a class you will get any productive field work, what isn't a crap shoot is the class instruction, that you will always get, but as I said, from taking these classes, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain will give you far more info than any Level 1 classroom day.
So if you're unsure about classes or think there may be scheduling issues due to COVID, just buy that book and start reading.
Then make sure you use self control. Every single season, and I mean every season, there are multiple days where I bail on friends because of what the conditions are and what their objectives are for the day. I'm not too proud and I don't give two fucks if they think I'm being a pussy or scared or whatever. I prefer to not take risks. That run is going nowhere. It will be there next week, next month and next year, it will also snow again and there will be the day when it all lines up to bag that line. I'll just go ride some pow in 30˚meadows and come home safe and still be happy as a pig in shit.
My last .02¢ is gimmicks ( or what I feel are ). I have no need to argue with people about this opinion. I have done it on here before, and if you see it differently than I do, that is your right, as is mine to see it differently than you do.
Avalungs and Airbags are gimmicks that have very little success and they have been shown to offer in NA terrain little statistical advantage in saving your life.
Here is an excellent post explaining this.
Here is a fataility with a fully deployed airbag, yet the victim was still fully buried.
Here is another, again airbag deployed, yet fully buried.
There are many many more full burial and deaths involving airbags I'm not going to link everyone.
AND yes, there are full burials and survived incidents with airbags, but as the post above explained, was it really due to the airbag? Or would the person have survived ( no trauma on the slide ) and/or been dug out in a timely fashion regardless of the airbag? ( people close by with great skills )
Can an airbag save your life?
But it is not what people think it is.
Invest in yourself through training, practice and good decision making rather than an airbag.
Also here's some for for thought. People think they are smarter than the human ( fallible ) condition. They aren't. Every person I know that has an airbag does not use it every day that they tour. That right there shows a huge problem. Wether they want to admit it or not, they only take it out on higher risk days, and then, wether consciously or not, they are making judgements due to the fact that they happen to have their airbag on them that day. The fact that the chose to wear it that day and not others is proof in the pudding. If people wore them everyday they went out like they do transceivers it would be different, but I don't personally know anyone who tours everyday with an airbag. I run into the UAC guys all the time and rarely, if ever, do they have on airbags.
If you're in AK or Central Europe with low feature terrain, airbags could be of some real benefit in certain circumstances.
Once again though I feel they skew peoples judgement, wether they want to admit it or not, and I'll choose good solid judgement any day over a fucking airbag.
Great post by @pow_hnd. I'll say I had a great experience with my Avy I course, but agree it's not going to change you if you have shitty judgment, or have friends with shitty judgment.
Unfortunately gauging partners' judgment is tough if you don't know them very well. I have a buddy with Avy 1 I've toured with in the past in low-risk situation and ridden a lot with at the resort. Good dude, never did anything particularly stupid that made me worry about him. But seeing how he's deal with COVID has made me really skeptical of touring with him in the future. He's not a conspiracy cuckoo, but he's been seeing friends indoors, going to parties-- outdoor, but no masks and minimal physical distance --and taking road trips carpooling with mixed households. Frankly shows bad judgment in low-probability, high-consequence circumstances that mirror potential avalanche risks.
Also read Tremper's "Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain". I read it after the course, I wish I'd read it before. It goes into a lot more detail on concepts I learned in the course. I'd do the course more for the field work than the theory, and like he said, the field work aspect can be hit or miss depending on recent snow conditions.
Speaking of Tremper, I believe @pow_hand is overly pessimistic on airbags (can't speak to Avalungs). The linked Tremper / UAC blogpost suggests benefits of an airbag are exaggerated and overstated, but real. Blogpost's comments on results of a few recent studies:
If you look at it with a glass-half-full approach, a deployed airbag saved about half of those who would have otherwise died. If you look it with a glass-half-empty approach, you would say that half of the people who deployed airbags died anyway.
Pascal was careful to mention that his study presented perhaps a worst-case scenario because, he eliminated less serious avalanches from the analysis and included only multiple burial incidents, and thus the data was biased towards larger, less survivable avalanches.
Indeed, in the April 2012 issue of the Avalanche Review, Jonathan Shefftz did a great summary of five different published data sets mostly from older European data sets and he found roughly similar numbers. Wearing an avalanche airbag would have saved from 35 to 81 people out of 100 who would have otherwise died. (The average of the 5 studies is 64.) So, it seems that in real-world experience, wearing an avalanche airbag will possibly save a little more than half of those who would have otherwise died.
At least from my perspective, saving half of avalanche fatalities is pretty darn good. Avalanche airbags are the best technology we have seen come along including the beacon. Although it's impossible to directly compare beacons with avalanche airbags because it's an apples-and-oranges comparison, most experts agree that the avalanche airbag will likely save more lives.
So the research suggests that a deployed airbag saved about half of people in the data set, and the real-world benefit is likely to be higher because the data set was inherently biased towards larger slides. Now I definitely wonder about the portability of European data to North America (our tree lines are much higher, so the risk of impact trauma in a slide is much higher), but seems in any case an airbag decreases fatality risk-- if you're caught in a slide, you're going to hit that tree regardless of whether you're wearing an airbag.
I read this same blog post a few weeks ago and decided to start looking into airbags. Yes, I still need to exercise good judgment, be wary of risk homeostasis, and generally do my damnedest to make sure I'm not caught in a slide knowing that the airbag is not some magical panacea... but Tremper believes the tech has a substantial benefit and is supported by the best available evidence. That's good enough for me.
So the research suggests that a deployed airbag saved about half of people in the data set
So, for people who don’t know @kimchi have ridden together. So we know each other, and there is no animosity at all.
But the quote above is what goes to the heart of Bruce’s post.
Yes, they survived, but, can we say definitively that the sole reason they survived was due to the airbag?
So just because half the people survived, that doesn’t mean it was due to the airbag, they just coincidentally happened to have an airbag on. He hypothesis is that maybe of the 19% of those survivals, what percentage really had anything to do directly with the airbag? Even if it was 50%, ( which is generous) then you’re saying airbags caused 9.5% to survive which with out the airbag would have been unsurvivable. Once again that’s a generous estimate.
During big storm cycles here in the Wasatch on any given day there are sometimes as many as 10 people to go for “rides” and survive. The UAC feels that it can be more than that because not all people report, and there are many observed slides in the field after the storm cycle and it is in some cases obvious someone went for a ride and didn’t report it.
So a lot of people go for rides and survive without airbags. Now if all those people have on airbags ( which they don’t ) could you really call that a 100% success rate.
I’d follow up by saying. Yes, an airbag can save your life. Do I personally feel the odds are high? At least in the terrain I ride? No.
Do I feel classes are good? Yes, absolutely, it’s the reason I have my level 1 & 2.
I guess I was trying to demonstrate though, as backed up by @kimchi the book goes into far more detail than the class does. so for some people if you’re trying to get started, the book is going to be a very solid foundation. So, in a COVID year, if a class is hard to come by, the book is great to use and a very good substitute, as long as you understand the concepts presented in the book and more importantly have hiking/mountain experience and understand terrain/aspects etc, etc.
If when out hiking in the summer you get lost easily, can’t determine N/S/E/W quickly and easily without landmark references, have a hard time recognizing concave/convex then maybe just the book by itself is not a good starting place.
I believe @pow_hand is overly pessimistic on airbags
I'd agree with this statement. But being pessimistic what what keeps people alive. When you're pessimistic on a runs safety, you don't do the run. You don't want a guide on help/cat trips that is being pessimistic on the runs they are leading you down. I'm a firm believer that a strong sense of pessimism is one of the best things to have when it comes to splitboarding.
I consider myself the weakest link in my core group of friends that ride together on this subject and vocalize that regularly knowing that each of us is responsible for each other even hiking in-bounds. Sometimes I say it just to be that check and balance on the collective fervor for a fresh stash that can creep in to the conversation of "where to next?". Sometimes we need that pause to check in with ourselves. We are all similarly skilled in ability, the lines we like to ride and how fast, and knowledgable. But most importantly we are respectful to each other and the variability of nature. We all regularly touch base on plan prior to and how to keep contact throughout a run. I think that is a firm basis to expand upon as you expand your terrain endeavors. I ride most with one friend and we certainly change course if either of us is not 110% on something on a specific day. You want there to always be tomorrow to explore or next month to try that line you didn't get that day.
Yes, I get impatient waiting for lifts to open after a dump. Yes, I get impatient with more people finding the classic tried and true local stashes in-bounds or those side country lines. But that is life now especially at resorts that also have good side and backcountry access within a few hours of a major metro area. Sound judgment shouldn't supersede the fresh stash fervor that creeps in to conversations especially on days that can be frustrating for your fresh track count.
The WORST thing that happened to me twice last year was a stranger following our small group in to areas that they shouldn't have. Our small crew traversed and hiked to two spots that we were all comfortable with and are very familiar with. To turn around and unexpectedly see a stranger catch up to you who then proceeds to cluelessly say something along the lines of, "Oh wow, never been here before, thanks for showing me!" or "Woohoo lets get the goods" or some other bullshit is INFURIATING. I am happy to tell them to fuck off and not jeopardize our group by being the weakest and most unknown link who has now forced their poor decision on to us. With more people pushing themselves in to newer zones I fear this is more common. The whole mentality of following a group you are not with or an unknown traverse or bootpack is my #1 frustration with riding the last 3 seasons.
I'm almost more apprehensive now to go to some spots knowing there are more eyes that can see where you are going and make a potentially poor decision for themselves.
I have seen some absolutely unsafe shit on youtube where people are broadcasting themselves hiking to places they shouldn't be and then amplifying that poor decision to their massive subscriber list that are often inexperienced beginner to intermediates.
I also recall one local friend unfortunately witnessing a lot of people touring last year in an area he was only to see them basically falling leaf the whole way down. Mind. Blown.
I think airbags work. They did for me. Because once I got one and realized how heavy they are and how awkward they are to ride with, I realized I'd actually rather make smart riding choices than carry one.
I'm only half joking.
If I was on a mission to tick off some aspects for my own riding bucket list, then sometimes you have to deal with the conditions as they are when you're there. That was my reasoning behind acquiring one. It's sort of an admission that you're going to make some suspect decisions and want some ass cover.
These days, if conditions are bad, I'll just choose to ride safer aspects or lower angle slopes. Even if conditions are good, that might be my plan just because.
It's situational, of course. The right tool for the right job.
the on site 2-3 day avy courses are the best, but they might be harder to do now a days.
I bet there will be many online courses available this winter.
I took my first avy course at the Bell Lake Yurt in the tobacco root mountains near Butte, America (Montana). It was my first time splitboarding as well. we went out and dug pits, practiced buried rescues, ie- finding buried backpacks with transievers in them. we went out in the morning and were able to find some pretty okay shredding, while talking about route planning and then dug some pits and analyzed them, then we had classroom time in the evenings. we had a yurtmiester to cook us food and tend the fire. I forgot my poles and had to use sticks, with pickle jar lids and duct tape for baskets, as my 'poles' for the weekend.
the university here has a seminar every fall that is good to get back in the mindset of traveling in avy terrain. also, some good podcasts out there nowadays- darkstarts, and the slide (i think?) are a couple ones I have listened to.
I think it is wise to call your local avy report- or look it up online- or have it sent to your inbox- every morning of the season- so you know how the snowpack is setting up/ forming for the season and if/where the hotspot layers are.
just like Tremper talks about in the book, I too was swept off my feet in a small sluff slide down the choke of a chute, in bounds at Bridger Bowl. it was mini, about up to my waist as it took me for a little rodeo ride and then the chute opened up and everything was fine, I wasnt buried and it only lasted a second, but nature was speaking a differnt language that day and it was my first wake up call to the dangers that lurk to the unwitting. move fast think slow.
"Best experiences with Avy classes (all levels) or first aid?"
I did the two courses for recreationists that are taught in Canada, AST Level 1 and 2. Also did a CaPow course ( https://capow.ca/trips/avalanche-process-level-1/ ) which teaches the parts of the professional 'Ops Level 1 and 2' qualifications that are relevant to recreationists. I found it to be the most helpful of any of the courses I've taken. Five days, residential, intensive combination of classroom and field learning for ~12 hours a day.
By the end of the course, the students had responsibility for everything - producing the avalanche forecast for the day, picking the objective, figuring out the uptrack and egress, and leading the group in the field. Much closer to real life than either Level 1 or 2.
It doesn't run every year and I suspect it won't this season because of COVID but I recommend looking into it for '21/'22. No affiliation with Capow, just like their guides and courses.
Outside of courses, which I appreciate might be harder this year, my recommendations would be:
1) read Bruce Tremper's book each year. There's always things you forget, and as you gain in experience, more of it becomes relevant
2) get the avalanche forecasts. We are between forecast regions here which makes life difficult; I read the forecasts for the adjacent regions
3) look at the data on a regular basis. I follow AvCan's Mountain Information Network, their weather forecasts (not just their avi forecasts), the Mountain Conditions Report (i.e. observations from guides), various ski sites like Snow-Forecast and OpenSnow, the local ski hill's snow report...
4) analyze the data yourself. I collect and save the data from the remote weather stations near here and produce my own forecast each day I'm going out. Might sound like overkill, but it's a great practice to get into, and given there's no forecast here, what else are you going to do? Worth mentioning that one of the goals of the CaPow course I mentioned was to get students comfortable producing their own forecasts - and reviewing those at the end of the day once you're home.
5) talk to the locals. If you can't do that, find local shredders on social media and follow them, especially guides. You can occasionally get useful info about local conditions this way
6) hike the lines in the summer that you want to ride in the winter. Can provide useful info you don't have access to during the season, e.g. what's underneath the snow and how will that affect how the snow bonds to the slope?
7) collect data when you're out. Don't need to dig a pit, just make sure you're making observations in the field. Is what you're seeing consistent with what you expected?
8) analyze your mistakes. I record these and try to figure out what I did wrong and how I can avoid the mistakes in the future. Don't have to be avalanche-related mistakes, can be anything relating to safety in the field.
HTH. And feedback is welcome.
EDIT: Analyzing other people's mistakes is also helpful - and is cheaper than making them yourself. You can find volumes 2, 3 and 4 of Avalanche Accidents in Canada online for free as PDFs. Volume 5 is only available in hardcopy at the moment.
Note there is a very helpful summary chapter that aggregates info on things like slope aspect, elevation, danger rating etc. If you lack time or motivation, read that and skip the rest.
@mariner9 great post. I definitely could not produce my own forecasts. I may need to look into that CaPow course. I may take in the future, when the borders open back up and life is "normal".
I'm trying to embedd this but it's not working for me, but it's Nick Mcnutt talking about Pieps Tranceiver Failure. So if you have a Pieps, yuh shuld chekerooot
Professional skier Nick McNutt was caught and buried by an avalanche in the Pemberton, British Columbia backcountry in March 2020 that shattered his arm and left him helplessly buried under several feet of snow for roughly five minutes. He couldn’t move but knew he was in good hands as he was riding with trained avalanche professionals that day that were able to rescue him with lightning-fast efficiency. But little did he know that his Pieps DSP Pro transceiver had turned off in the avalanche and that his buddies were probing blind.
Solid thread thanks dudes. I'm planning to get into the BC this winter so this was really helpful.
avy beacon training tips-
have a friend go hide a beer in the snow next to a transmitting avy beacon, then you go find it with your avy transceiver and claim the prize.
more and more resorts are setting up a Avy Beacon Park where you can practice using yours. the patrolers hide a beacon in the snow in a different spot each day and you can practice using your avy tools to find. ask patrol if they have one at your local mountain. Its usually in a no-traffic , flat area, and has a rope enclosing the searchable zone.
That is good stuff. I would recommend everyone practice using the beacon and running "drop dead" scenarios. We run those for mock CPR calls and it is one thing to take a course, but another thing entirely to refine the skills and be super dialed in how to get your gear out of your pack and into search mode. Once you have that practice the various ways of physically unburying the person.
Always good to have the gear, but just like a seat belt won't prevent you from getting into a car crash, avy gear won't magically keep you safe. Be safe and smart out there. Hopefully none of us ever have to use it for its intended purpose