The Basics on Beacon Searching
When somebody gets lost in an avalanche do not go to get help. You are that person’s only chance of survival and you need to jump into action immediately. Hopefully you are a well-equipped backcountry skier and you have a transceiver to help you find the victim. The first step is to find him or her with a beacon search. A beacon search should be done in three stages: the signal search, coarse search and fine search. Read on to find the details of each phase.
The signal search is performed when no signal has been detected. You need to place yourself at the last-seen area and search straight down the fall line from there. If you didn’t see the avalanche or the victim fall then you need to search the entire debris pile for the victim. Ideally you will have multiple searchers, and you need to make sure you are spread out no more than 40 metres apart. If you are by yourself, you need to make switchbacks no more than 40 metres apart, 20 metres from each side. Move as quickly as possible, constantly looking for clues on the surface of the snow.
Once you pick up a signal, use your directional lights and distance display to follow the signal. In many cases this is curved. If you are using an Analog beacon you will need to adjust your sensitivity control. Move as fast as you can until you are 3 metres from the victim of the avalanche. If you can get to them within 15 minutes, their survival rate is at 92%.
At this point you need to slow down and pay a closer attention to the distance readings. Disregard the directional arrows as they are less important. Get your beacon as close to the snow as possible and once the lowest distance reading is found, search along the perpendicular axis for an even lower reading. As soon as the lowest reading is confirmed, get probing!!!