Guide to Probing
In the event of an avalanche, an avalanche probe is an essential piece of snow safety equipment that you must carry with you at all times when skiing or snowboarding in the backcountry. A probe is best used in conjunction with an avalanche beacon and will massively increase your chances of locating a friend lost in an avalanche. Below you will find a guide on how to probe in the case of an avalanche.
Beacon Search Probing
The pinpoint search (within three metres) can be the hardest part of the fine search. Using a probe can help you quickly locate the location and depth of burial. A probe with a depth marking can give you an accurate reading of the depth and also an appropriate excavation area size. When you have confirmed your lowest distance reading, probe 10 in(25cm) apart in concentric circles. Insert the probe perpendicular to the surface, not straight down, and when you strike the victim, leave the probe in place and start shovelling downhill of the probe. The best length for your probe is between 1.8 and 3 metres.
If you do not have a beacon you need to do spot probing. To start with you need to locate the likely burial areas on the slope and probe up to 1.5 metres. Likely areas include:
- The fall line below the last-seen-area;
- Around any of the victim’s equipment on the surface of the snow;
- Above and below rocks and trees;
- Depressions and curves;
- The toe of the debris pile.
Research has shown that those victims who are buried below 1.5 metres rarely survive. With this in mind, it is better to probe more areas over probing deeper. The recommended probe length is 2 to 3 metres.
Organised Probe Lines
Usually performed by search-and-rescue groups aside from the victim’s party. It is very unlikely that an organised probe line will result in a live recovery. Searchers will line up wrist to wrist when arms are outstretched across the slope. Each volunteer will make three holes in a line, 50 cm apart and will then move forward one step and repeat the process. Each searcher should be probing at a consistent depth. Long probes enable searchers to stand upright while probing, which eases any pressure on the back. The probe length recommended here is 3 to 3.5 metres.