If you were out and about around Edale on Saturday 10th January you may have seen a group of people wandering up and down a windy hillside as though they were lost. They weren’t already lost on The Spine Race (which was happening on the same day); they were the lucky 12 who got a place on the Facewest Avalanche Awareness Day.
Running the course was British Mountain Guide Graham McMahon, who kicked things off by showing a few videos demonstrating what massive avalanches look like. From the videos it’s clear just how powerful and dangerous even a small avalanche can be, which is why when going out in avalanche terrain it only sensible to know how to avoid them and, if the worst should happen, how to deal with it. These 2 points were the main aim of the day and Graham spent the first 45 minutes of his presentation going into the detail of understanding what avalanches are, the differences between them and how they are formed. He also covered how to recognise avalanche terrain, both in the planning stage and when out in the mountains.
Before Miles, from Noble Custom the UK Ortovox supplier went through the 3 different transceivers on offer from Ortovox Graham briefly covered how transceivers work as this is an important part of understanding what the transceiver is telling you when conducting a search. The Ortovox range of transceivers was available to borrow for the day for those who didn’t have their own. In this range there are 3 models; the basic model is the Zoom+, the intermediate model the 3+, and the advanced model the S1+ and the course attendees had the opportunity to try out the different models.
With full outdoor clothing donned and armed with a transceiver each everyone headed outside in the wind (thankfully it had stopped raining) to practice using the transceivers. With 4 units hidden in the bracken on the side of the hill the course split into small groups to perform a few searches. Once everyone had got the hang of doing a transceiver search, heading back into the warmth seemed like a good idea. With some practical knowledge gained Graham took the course through the thought processes and decision making that should be going on before travelling in avalanche terrain.
After a break for lunch it was straight back into the presentation where Graham covered in detail the factors which should always be considered when travelling in avalanche terrain and how risks can be minimised. This included getting to grips with the more common weather patterns in the Alps – by no means an easy task. Having covered this, the course headed back out into the weather to practice searches with multiple burials. The final practical part was a probe line and the weather provided the opportunity to practice in conditions more applicable to Scotland and the Alps.
The final part of the day was to have a look at some of the other avalanche safety kit available and the benefits to different models.
The course was ideal for those looking to get into any activity where being on avalanche terrain is a possibility. The main message I took from the course was that avalanches are not something which should put you off doing anything as long as the conditions have been thoroughly checked and the necessary precautions taken. And finally, if you have a transceiver, make sure that you know how to use it!