BCA Presents New Avalanche Research at ISSW2018

The 2018 International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW2018) is the world’s largest conference on snow and avalanches. BCA is pleased to be presenting new avalanche research at ISSW2018.

Peer Ambassadors at Work: Modeling Good Decision-Making in “Aggro” Freeride Films
by Bruce Edgerly
Simplifying the Signal Search: Why You Don’t Need to Rotate Your Tranceiver Vertically
by Bruce Edgerly
Let’s Break Tradition and Save More Lives. Using Snowmobiles for Avalanche Rescue.
by Mike Duffy and Bruce Edgerly

Around 1,000 local, national and international participants, from experts to decision-makers and stakeholders, are attending the ISSW2018 this week October in Innsbruck, Austria.  The thematic focus lies on current advances in snow and avalanche science, case studies and innovative technologies on an international level. Unlike any other symposium, ISSW2018 promotes an international and interdisciplinary exchange between experts in the snow community.

BCA is joining others in presenting three new avalanche research papers in oral and poster presentations, as well as sponsoring the conference and exhibiting BCA products.

The general ISSW2018 topics include protection measures, avalanche forecasting and dynamics, snow management, as well as guiding, rescue and risk strategies. ISSW2018 emphasizes special topics such as ‘Integral Engineering Solutions’, ‘Avalanche accidents’ and ‘Terrain-based decision making’. BCA’s new avalanche research contributes to these themes.

Peer Ambassadors at Work: Modeling Good Decision-Making in “Aggro” Freeride Films is an exciting oral presentation by BCA VP Bruce Edgerly that addresses the influence of aggressive freeride films on young skiers,  snowboarders, and snowmobilers. Each year, filmmakers Teton Gravity Research, Matchstick Productions and others show rowdy big mountain athletes charge big lines, send big airs, and are sometimes shown outrunning avalanches. Does this “aggro” behavior send the right message to young, impressionable riders?

Backcountry Access (BCA) performed a survey through its social media channels in 2018 to determine how freeride films affect the behavior of skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers. The results indicated that:

  • 51% of recreationists and 93%  of professionals believe that freeride films affect the behavior of skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers in the backcountry,
  • 31% of professionals confirmed that they have rescued individuals that said they were trying to imitate something they saw in a freeride film, and
  • 94% of professionals agree that including avalanche safety content in freeride films would likely cause riders to modify their backcountry behavior.

Based on these trends, BCA shifted its sponsorship budget in 2018 toward developing a series of videos that show the “other side” of freeride films, including the avalanche safety and decision-making process behind these aggressive segments. The videos in #sendandreturn: the BCA safe shredding series not only shows well-respected BCA athletes riding aggressively, but also shows them evaluating avalanche conditions and planning their tours according to the avalanche conditions. In these films, the athletes demonstrate how to execute safe travel protocols including trailhead tests, traveling one at a time, performing snow stability tests, and communicating clearly about the trip plan. And after they’re filmed “sending” radical lines in big mountain terrain, they’re always shown safely returning at the end of the day.

Simplifying the Signal Search: Why You Don’t Need to Rotate Your Tranceiver Vertically is an avalanche research white paper that challenges why many avalanche instructors tell you to rotate your transceiver on all three axes when performing the signal search in an avalanche rescue scenario. This is counter-intuitive to most users, especially now that most have digital transceivers: these use visual directional indicators that have no value when the searching transceiver is vertical. However, covering the vertical orientation is unnecessary: the receive range of a transceiver is equal or slightly greater when the longest receiving antennae are on the horizontal plane—even if the transmit antenna is vertical. BCA technicians performed a series of tests in the spring of 2018, confirming that, with a vertical transmit antenna, the signal search is just as effective when the searching transceiver is rotated only on the horizontal plane than if rotated on all three axes, including the vertical plane. By maintaining a horizontal search transceiver orientation, consistent signals are acquired slightly earlier in the signal search. This simplified procedure should be adopted in future companion rescue and Avalanche Search & Rescue (AvSAR) courses—and in the instruction manuals for all avalanche transceiver products.

Let’s Break Tradition and Save More Lives. Using Snowmobiles for Avalanche Rescue is an avalanche research white paper by Mike Duffy and Bruce Edgerly, based on a report that first appeared last fall in The Avalanche Review. Traditionally, snowmobiles have been used for decades to access accident sites. Once on site, the search is traditionally conducted on foot. BCA has developed techniques and an Avalanche Searching Using Snowmobiles video that shows how to use snowmobiles in the signal search phase to cut rescue times. In this paper, we present three ways sleds can be used to cut precious minutes in an avalanche rescue: 1) accessing the debris for immediate visual/signal search; 2) moving searchers to locations quickly; and 3) performing a perimeter signal search by snowmobile, taking measures to prevent electrical interference from the snowmobile engine. We have used these techniques in numerous environments: avalanche incidents, organized rescues, AvSAR trainings, and in practice scenarios with BCA employees. In timed tests at the Silverton Avalanche School, searchers using snowmobiles have recovered five buried “victims” within five minutes. Without snowmobiles in these scenarios, it would have taken at least 15 minutes for a SAR team on skis to even reach the accident site. Once on scene, when used properly, snowmobiles can significantly reduce search times, especially in large avalanche scenarios.