Witnessed an avalanche?
How to provide assistance

When you go off-piste skiing, the risk of an avalanche is always present, although the level of this risk will depend on the slope, the weather and the state of the snow cover. View pictures describing the steps of an avalanche rescue without support.

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When you go off-piste skiing, the risk of an avalanche is always present, although the level of this risk will depend on the slope, the weather and the state of the snow cover. Whatever happens, you should always be prepared to rescue avalanche victims whether they are part of your group or not.
In collaboration with "La Chamoniarde", view pictures that describe the different steps of an avalanche rescue without support.

You've witnessed an avalanche... what do you do?

1/PUT YOUR SAFETY FIRST
You've witnessed an avalanche or you find an avalanche covering an area you passed some time earlier? If your first instinct is to rescue the victims, always remember that you need to put your safety first.
Analyse the situation, look around you: could there be another avalanche? are you in a dangerous location, with crevasses or patches of ice?
Whatever the situation, put your safety first: put on a harness and belay yourself somewhere, put on your crampons, make an anchor point with a ski to belay yourself, etc.

2/SEARCH FOR SIGNS ON THE SURFACE
Once you are safe, check for signs of the presence of any victims caught in the avalanche: a ski on the snow, a pole that is protruding above the snow, a visible piece of clothing or backpack, etc. If you immediately spot something, start organising the rescue based on these clues. In any case, quickly notify the emergency services that an avalanche has occurred in a busy area.

3/APPOINT A LEADER
To be effective in a rescue, there should be just one person from the group who takes charge and assigns each person with their role:
- one person calls for help
- another starts searching with the transceiver
The leader reminds everyone of the search steps, organises the group and any rotations that may be required, checks that everyone is safe and passes on information as needed. Remember to prepare your gear for the search. Here is the list of things to do:
1 turn off the transceivers
2 turn off and put your phone away
3 switch the transceivers of those conducting the search to "search" mode
4 get the shovel and probe out

SEARCHING FOR AVALANCHE VICTIMS WITH A TRANSCEIVER

This is the basics of avalanche rescue: know how to use your avalanche transceiver so that you can find any victims. As soon as you're ready, get started, successful avalanche rescues rely on speed.

1 - SEARCHING FOR A SIGNAL: METHOD
With your avalanche transceiver in search mode, move towards the presence indicator by moving along a Z-shaped route, zig-zagging across the width of the avalanche. To be effective and not miss the signal, the width between the two ends of a V pattern (half of the Z) must match the distance indicated on the back of your transceiver. Once your transceiver has picked up a signal, switch to the coarse search. Let the group know that you have picked up a signal.

2 - COARSE SEARCH: FOLLOW THE INDICATOR
The coarse search will allow you to locate the victim in an area of approximately 10 metres. Hold the transceiver horizontally and continue to approach the signal as instructed by your transceiver. As soon as the transceiver indicates that the signal is within a 10-metre area, remove your skis on this spot to indicate the limit of this zone. Then tell the rest of the group so that you can organise the next step of the search.

3 - FINE SEARCH
As soon as your transceiver indicates the 3-metre area, switch to fine search:- move your avalanche transceiver closer to the snow to refine the search- use the cross search technique (or any other fine search technique you know and are comfortable with)- once the closest signal is located, stick your pole in the snow to mark the location of the victim designated by the transceiver signal.

AS SOON AS THE VICTIM IS LOCATED, IT IS IMPORTANT TO DIG THEM OUT QUICKLY! (coordination between group members is important for efficient and rapid extraction). It is possible that another person is buried, given that off-piste skiers are generally always accompanied. If you can't see them or there isn't even a sign of them on the surface, it is still important to go in search of the potential second victim as soon as the first is located.
Use all the resources at your disposal: make use of the person responsible for notifying the emergency services to carry out a fine search for the second victim while the other members of the group free the first victim.

RESCUING THE VICTIM: FIRST AID PROCEDURE

The first aid procedure may involve doing nothing, just protecting the victim as well as possible until help arrives. Do what you can, according to your means and your knowledge.

1 - CHECK FOR CONSCIOUSNESS
When you find the victim, immediately check if they are conscious: call out, ask if the person can hear you, ask them to tell you everything they know about what happened: number of people in the group, circumstances of the avalanche, possible location of the other victims.
If they are not responding, dig them out completely to see if they are breathing.

Once the victim or victims have been dug out, call the emergency services to give them a detailed assessment of the situation:
- number of victims
- state of consciousness
- possible injuries observed
- actions taken...
Any information that you can give to the rescue teams will save time and possibly save a life.

2 - CHECK FOR BREATHING
Immediately clear the airways of snow or anything else that may be blocking them. Make sure that the person is breathing. If necessary, give 5 rescue breaths (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation) and check for breathing again. If necessary, start performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, at the following rate: 30 compressions, 2 rescue breaths.

3 - PROTECT THE VICTIM WHILE WAITING FOR HELP TO ARRIVE
Protect them from the cold as much as possible without endangering yourself. Use your survival blanket, if you have one. Also protect the victim from any additional snowfall, or from the sun if necessary.

When the helicopter arrives, identify yourself by raising your arms to form a Y, to say YES. If you only raise only one arm, or wave both arms, you are giving the NO signal to the pilot and the helicopter may set off again.

IT'S IMPORTANT TO KNOW WHAT TO DO WHEN RESCUING AVALANCHE VICTIMS, HOWEVER, NOTHING CAN BEAT PRACTISING FOR THIS EVENUALITY IN THE FIELD. SO DON'T HESITATE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE COURSES OFFERED BY PROFESSIONALS AND SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

Off-piste safety: rescue

** OCEANE VIBERT **

Director of La Chamoniarde