Back Country Safety Tips

Back Country Safety Tips

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Shelley Osterloh ReportingIf you are headed into the back country to track some powder or cross country ski, what should you know, before you go? And what should you take to insure your safety?

Wasatch Touring has been selling back country equipment and educating people about mountain safety for more than 20 years. If you are heading into back country or off resort terrain, experts say you need to educate yourself about avalanche risk and conditions so you can avoid avalanche prone areas, but just in case, you should have three things: a shovel, a probe and a beacon.

If your buddy survives the trauma of the avalanche, but is buried alive, you only have about 15 minutes to locate them with a beacon, find them with the probe, and shovel them out.

Charlie Butler, Wasatch Touring Company: "Even in the out of bounds areas of the ski areas, the ski patrol can't get there, quick enough. Your best chance of survival is if you friend, who is right there behind you, can find out and dig you out."

There are many different kinds of beacons or transceivers on the market. They range from about 225 dollars to 300 dollars each. All brands work together on the same frequency. While skiing, the beacon transmits a signal. If your partner is buried you can switch your transceiver from transmit to receive and track the others’ signal. But it takes some practice and experience to do it quickly.

Charlie Butler, Wasatch Touring Company: "As I move closer, you hear the tone increase, the numbers get smaller. And it’s kind of bringing me in on this curved path."

When you've honed in on the area you use a probe to find your partner in the snow, and start digging fast.

Everyone should know some basic warning signs of avalanche danger before heading down the hill. North facing slopes and 35 to 40 degree hills are prone to slide. Also, look at the vegetation for signs of previous avalanches

Charlie Butler, Wasatch Touring Company: "Avalanches can run in trees. If they’ve run there before you'll see the lower branches are ripped off or a lot of the avalanche paths that happen frequently, the trees never get established."

Fresh snow and layers of snow that have fallen at different temperatures may produce slides, and wind adds to the danger.

Charlie Butler, Wasatch Touring Company: "Without having any new snow, if you have a lot of wind, and a lot of available snow that can blow around that going to build up these slabs that are going to turn into avalanches quicker than a really hard snowfall."

To buy the least expensive of the three items -- the transceiver, the shovel, and the probe -- cost about 300 dollars. But here's another option: the Recco. It cost only $20 for two of them. They do not transmit, but can reflect a radar signal, and professional search teams have them. Most Utah resorts have those radar guns because of the 2002 Olympics.

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