What is the first thing we can do to prepare for the upcoming sledding season? Bake cookies? Buy a pumpkin spice latte? Both are good suggestions, but are wrong.
First thing on everyone’s list should be to check your safety equipment. Take the batteries out of your beacon and replace them, even if you are certain you put new ones near the end of last season. Inspect the battery terminals for corrosion and check with the manufacturer for software updates if applicable. If your beacon is more than a couple years old it is time for a brand new one, just like all electronics, beacons wear out and could compromise the signal strength among other things. Take your probe out and extend it to ensure all the connections go together smoothly and stay tight. Don’t neglect your shovel either, inspect all the spring tabs in the handle and make sure they aren’t corroded and are free to move. These are the bare necessities when it comes to avalanche safety but air bag packs are quickly becoming a no brainer as they are proven to increase the chances of survival in an avalanche. Every fall make sure to take out all of last year’s leftover lunches and while you’re in there, pull the handle to ensure the bag inflates properly and holds pressure for the manufacturer’s specified time. If it doesn’t work properly, take it in to an authorized dealer for service. Here in Golden we are lucky to have Avalanche Safety Solutions (an authorised airbag dealer that can sell and service a variety of airbag brands). A few items to think about adding to your arsenal of equipment are:
- First aid kit
- Snow saw
- Snow study kit
- VHF/UHF radio
All these items are totally useless unless you know how to use them. Take your beacon out and practice search patterns and get really REALLY good at using it because you may be the person that has to save someone’s life. Know all the functions of your beacon because they do more than just send and receive; group check and mark features are becoming standard and there are lots of instructions available online to help you master them. Practice multiple and single burial scenarios. It may seem silly, but bury different objects and probe them to get the feel of what a tree, piece of metal, or a body would feel like. (You don’t need to bury your little brother, a rolled up newspaper will do). Knowing the difference between probing a tree branch or a piece of metal will save you energy and time in a real scenario. Practice shovelling techniques as well in both a group and solo setting; there actually is a right way and a wrong way to shovel snow.
Not taking an avalanche course is a bit ridiculous these days and when choosing friends to enter the backcountry with, one should consider who is actually competent and capable of performing a rescue because it could mean the difference between survival and fatality. In the Golden area, Hangfire Avalanche Training and Trigger Point Snow Services are two certified avalanche course providers with websites offering information for course dates.