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How to use avalanche probes


13 January 2016 Author Paul Quigley


When thinking of snow safety equipment, avalanche probes are one of those pieces that you should never forget to take with you. Probes are best used in conjuction with avalanche beacons.


Signal Search

Beacon Search Probing

The pinpoint search (within three metres) is the trickiest part of a beacon search. A probe can quickly confirm the location and depth of burial. Probes with depth markings aid in determining exact depth and in determining the appropriate excavation area size. From your lowest distance reading, probe 10 in (25cm) apart in an expanding spiral pattern. Since the pinpoint search is done along the snow surface, insert probe perpendicular to the surface, not straight down. After striking the victim, leave in place and start shoveling downhill of the probe. Recommended probe length: 1.8 to 3 metres.



Coarse Search

Spot Probing

Performed if beacons are not worn or not functioning. Probe up to 6 feet deep (1.5 metres) in likely burial spots. These include the fall line below last-seen-area; around the victim’s equipment on surface; above and below rocks & trees; depressions, curves, and the toe of the debris pile. Studies show that avalanche victims rarely survive below 6 feet (1.5 metres). Therefore a live recovery is more likely if you probe more areas than if you probe deeper. Recommended probe length: 2 to 3 metres.



Fine Search

Organized Probe Lines

Usually performed by search-and-rescue groups outside the victim’s own party. Rarely result in live recoveries. Searchers line up wrist-to-wrist (arms outstreched) across the slope, make three holes in a line, 50cm apart, then move forward one step and repeat. Probing depth should be consistent between all searchers. Long probes enable searchers to stand upright while probing, minimizing back fatigue. Recommended probe length: 3 to 3.5 metres