About Avalanche Safety Equipment

About Avalanche Safety EquipmentClimbers and skiers traveling in avalanche terrain carry specialized rescue equipment that helps locate avalanche victims quickly. Each member of the party takes along three necessary items: a beacon, a probe and a shovel. Newer safety devices, like the Avalung and avalanche airbags, supplement the primary equipment.

Avalanche Rescue Beacons

Avalanche rescue beacons, also known as avalanche transceivers, are electronic rescue devices that can transmit and receive radio signals. Climbers and skiers traveling in avalanche terrain wear a beacon switched to "transmit"---the beacon is never turned off during travel--because battery usage is minimal. If an avalanche occurs, survivors switch their transceivers to "receive" and carry out a search pattern for the victim. According to Tony Daffern in his book, "Avalanche Safety for Skiers and Climbers," avalanche rescue beacons offer the fastest and most reliable way to locate a buried victim.

In 1995, North America standardized the frequency of avalanche rescue beacons to the European frequency of 457 kHz. Older models may operate on the old frequency of 2,275 kHz. Climbers using older models should test their units for compatibility.


After an avalanche victim is located with a beacon, climbers use probes to pinpoint his exact location by pushing the probes into the snow until contact is made with the victim. Climbers and skiers use two types of probes: modified ski poles and sectional aluminum tubes. Ski pole probes have removable handles and baskets. A searcher removes the handles and basket and screws the poles together. Sectional aluminum tubes are screwed together to a desired length. Typically, they are joined together with shock cord and look like a tent pole with threads at each section.


Rescuers use shovels to dig the victim out of the snow pile. Shovels come in many sizes, but large stiff blades move the most snow. Shovels designed for the backcountry are collapsible and the handle often can be disconnected from the blade. The shovel can then be kept inside a backpack.


The Avalung, manufactured by Black Diamond, allows a buried victim to draw oxygen through a mouth tube. It sends the used CO2 out through a vent located away from the face. The Avalung draws air from the snow pack, which allows the victim to breathe while waiting to be rescued.

Avalanche Airbags

An avalanche airbag is a bag that fills with air when activated. It deploys from a backpack and during the avalanche keeps the victim floating high in the sliding snow. According to avalanchetools.com, the bag often keeps a victim from getting buried in the first place, which saves time during a rescue.

Article Written By Bryan Hansel

Bryan Hansel is a freelance photographer and kayaking guide who began writing in 1993. His outdoors articles appear on various websites. Hansel holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and religion from the University of Iowa.

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