Ventura County Search & Rescue, Fillmore Mountain Rescue Team 1
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General Winter Rules

  • Don't get cold, getting warm again is tough

  • In sleet and heavy rain, it will rain inside your rainsuit

  • If overnight outing is known - DRY CLOTHES are most Important

  • Over 24 hours, one needs valid nutrition

  • DRINK FLUIDS (Dehydration adds to altitude sickness)

  • Pace oneself, especially during haul systems and uphill travel

  • If your feet are cold, Put on a Hat

  • Wind chill has a large effect

  • Groups and Teamwork help

  • Know Area Location accurately

US Avalanche Statistics

  • Approximately 100,000 Avalanches occur in the US each year

  • Approximately 150 people are caught in avalanches each year

  • 65 of those are partially or completely buried

  • 12 of these are injured

  • 17 of those are killed

  • The rest escape

  • The Majority (78-88%) are "Out of Bound Skiers"

  • January - March account for 61% f avalanche deaths

  • 90% of the time avalanche victims succumb to avalanches they or someone in their party trigger

The Average Avalanche

  • 2-3 Feet Deep, 150 Feet Wide

  • 400 Foot Elevation Drop

  • Duration of 30 Seconds

  • Snow Speed of 50 Miles Per Hour

  • Large Variances Exist - 40 foot slide have killed and Snow speeds of 230 miles per hour have been observed

Two Types of Avalanches

  • Loose Snow

  • Inverted "V"

  • Fan out heading downhill

  • Not a major threat

  • However these type have killed

  • Slab Avalanches

  • Requires two conditions - a cohesive layer and a week layer

  • The heavy cohesive layer succumbs to gravity

  • Contributing Factors are Many.....

  • ...... Weather, Terrain and Snow Pack

  • This is the Feared avalanche

Weather conditions that contribute

  • Storms - 80% of avalanches occur during or just after storms

  • Winds - Winds over 15 MPH move large amounts of snow

  • New Snow Falling Rate - 1" per hour is considered large

  • Temperature - Best Settling occurs at 20-32 degrees

  • Too cold < metamorphosis is slowed

  • Too warm - Spring conditions percolates water


  • Slope Steepness 30-40 degrees is the most common

  • Prevailing winds, leeward or windward aspect

  • Profile - Flat, Concave, Convex

  • Ground Cover - Trees, Large Rocks, Brush, ETC...

  • Elevation - Avalanches occur more frequently at higher elevations, however higher elevations do have more snow 

  • Past avalanche activity

Snow Pack

  • Recent Avalanche Activity

  • Recent Wind Loading

  • Hollow Sounds

  • Shooting Cracks

  • Weak Snow Stability Tests

  • Crystal Analysis

Our Search and Rescue Operations

  • Likely to occur in or after a storm

  • Typically "Out of Bounds" or off trail

  • Most likely case is one of our own

  • Standard Equipment needed:

  • Beacon On and under clothing 100% of the time

  • Batteries changed after 48-72 hours of operation

  • Snow Shovel

  • Probe Tools (Ski Poles, Tracking Stick, Avalanche Probe)

Route Selection

  • Stay in Trees

  • Avoid open slopes of 30-40 degrees

  • Stay on ridges if possible

  • If a Hazardous Crossing is Required:

  • Put on hat, gloves, and tighten jacket

  • Loosen pack waist strap and one shoulder

  • Cross one person at a time

  • Use the same track to cross upon

  • If ascending, Try to sty straight uphill

  • Be aware of signs of cracking

  • Conditions change overnight

  • It is Unknown if the New "Air Rebreather Jackets" at this time

  • Choose campsites carefully

Survival Techniques

  • Shout to alert others

  • Get rid of packs, poles and stuff.....

  • Try to swim to the top

  • "Grab" a tree that is going by

  • When slowing, take in air and protect face

  • Try to stick out of snow

  • Don't Panic....

Avalanche Rescue Techniques

  • 50% chance of survival after 30 min.

  • ~90% of burials of less than 1 foot deep survive

  • Someone take charge

  • Before going into slide area- Is it Safe for ME????

  • While in route, Study physical information

  • Mark Point Last Seen (PLS) But take reports with a grain of salt

  • Beacon searching provides the best performance - Assuming the missing subjects a wearing beacons

  • Search from PLS downhill

  • Keep a Safety posted

  • Pre-plan an escape route

  • DO NOT GO FOR HELP - Continue Searching

Beacon Searches

  • Spread out in a grid pattern 20 meter separation

  • Start at maximum sensitivity

  • Continue grid until a signal is detected

  • The best signal person enters the single person mode

  • Others prepare to dig but continue to search for other victims

  • Turn Off Subjects Beacon when found

Single Person Mode

  • Tracker Beacon provides better performance.

  • Mark initial spot of tone, adjust to minimum sensitivity to still hear the tone, articulate beacon to best signal.

  • Head in a straight line until tone is lost (continually adjust to lowest sensitivity) Maintain attitude of receiving beacon.

  • Return back down line just walked (the signal should get strong and then weak again) Note where the signal was lost.

  • Return midpoint of the "distance between the two nulls"

  • Turn 90 degrees

  • Walk in this direction to find a null, then back track till you find the next null.

  • Start digging at the center point of the two nulls.

  • While others dig, get close to the snow and try to find the strongest signal

  • Continue using the beacon during the dig.

  • Check the side walls.

Non-Beacon Searching

  • Look for clues ..... Hand sticking out of the surface, clothing, packs

  • Instigate a scuff search, kick and scratch irregularities in the surface

  • Probing is a slow and uncertain mechanical process

  • Start an avalanche probe / pole search - Coarse search is 2 foot separation - Fine search is 1 foot separation 

  • If the probe hits rocks or trees or slope, it will stop very little give

  • If the probe hits the victim it will have some give to it

The bottom line is: Well prepared team has the training, conditioning, equipment and critical judgment to evaluate hazards and respond effectively to an avalanche. Team members carry beacons, shovels, snow saw, and probe tools they may need in an emergency, they have practiced to gain the skill and experience to use them effectively. The team knows that seconds count in their safety.

Ventura County Sheriff's Volunteer Search & Rescue  |  Fillmore Mountain Rescue  |  Team 1
Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 296 |  Fillmore, CA  93016
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2005 Ventura County Sheriff's Volunteer Search & Rescue, Fillmore Mountain Rescue, Team 1

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