Avalanche transceiver searches

Avalanche transceivers (also known as avalanche beacons) can be used to locate someone who is buried in the snow. Time is of the essence when locating and rescuing someone buried by avalanche.
Mammut Pulse Barryvox avalanche transceiver
Mammut Pulse Barryvox avalanche transceiver
 The basic message is that to survive an avalanche you have to be rescued within 15 minutes. As rescue services will usually take at least half an hour to arrive on the scene this means the people you are travelling with are the ones who will rescue you.
Your life depends on carrying and being proficient in the use of avalanche transceivers and having snow probes and shovels. In ideal conditions it will take around 5 minutes to locate a victim with a transceiver and 10 to 15 minutes to dig them out from the average depth of burial which is 1 meter.
Digging out an avalanche victim during BSAR training
Digging out an avalanche victim during BSAR training

Note: These skills should be refreshed each winter.

Coarse search

  • Proceed in zigzag pattern across the avalanche debris slope, note 25m maximum range
  • If two or more people, walk down the slope 10m apart

Fine search – victim within a 5 metre radius

  • Slow down to increase the accuracy of the search

Pinpointing phase – victim within a 2 metre radius

  • Kneel down, without moving forward
  • Hold the transceiver close to the surface of the snow
  • Move the device forwards and backwards from left to right until you locate the shortest distance in both directions
  • Make sure you hold the transceiver in the same directions as the one you followed to reach the area

Once victim is located

  • Place an object on the ground to mark the shortest distance.
  • Do not walk about the area unnecessarily, you could destroy air pockets
  • You are close enough to the victim to start probing

Point search

  • Without standing up, starting from the marked point, probe the snow at 25cm intervals in a spiral pattern
  • Probe at right angles to the slope
  • Do not remove your gloves
  • Using one hand to probe provides greater sensitivity and less risk of injury for the victim
  • Hard contact and metallic sound – stone or ski
  • Soft and “clinging” contact – ground (end of probe goes into earth)
  • Soft and “flexible” or “bouncy” – victim

When victim touched by probe

  • Leave the probe in place to mark the location and let victim know search is in progress
  • Move 50cm downhill or sideways on the same level and dig in this location to rescue victim


  • Start by cutting out two or three sides of a section of snow to remove it
  • Make small slices rather than blocks to conserve energy
  • When shovelling in a team, form a V shape below the probe
  • Do not throw snow over the sides of the V, it will eventually fall back in
  • Do not lift the shovel over your shoulder when removing snow, this will waste energy

See Also

External links

Last Updated on January 3, 2022