A sophisticated training tool designed to improve avalanche rescue skills has been installed at Fernie Alpine Resort.
The equipment has been specifically designed to allow avid backcountry travellers and interested members of the public alike to test their skills in avalanche rescue.
Designed by Swiss avalanche expert Manuel Genswein, this equipment allows users to run simulations of buried companions and test their rescue skills.
The training area is easily accessed off the Timber chair at Fernie Alpine Resort (just follow the signs), and is free to anyone interested in acquiring or improving their rescue skills.
The equipment consists of a control unit that is wirelessly linked to buried transmitters. The control unit allows users to select one of three scenarios at the push of a button (easy, intermediate or expert). These scenarios trigger a certain number of the transmitters to emit a signal of 457kHz, the same frequency as an avalanche transceiver. Users can then search for the transmitter using their own transceiver, and probe to pinpoint the ‘victim’. Upon a successful strike the control unit emits audible and visible signals. The different scenarios increase the number of buried ‘victims.’ with the expert scenario giving an unspecified number of victims. In all cases, the control unit confirms when the scenario has been successfully completed and informs the user of the time taken to locate each ‘victim’.
People wishing to use the site should bring their own transceiver and a probe. There is no need for a shovel, as the transmitters should not be dug up.
The purchase of the equipment is the culmination of a lengthy fundraising and planning campaign by Fernie Search and Rescue (SAR).
“We are excited to see this equipment available for members of the public and believe it will make a very real difference to avalanche safety in the valley,” Simon Piney, Manager for Fernie SAR said. “We are grateful to Fernie Alpine Resort and in particular to the FAR Pro Patrol for agreeing to host and maintain the site. I would also like to say that while the project has been managed by Fernie SAR, the original idea came from valley residents Gary Walker and Alex Hamilton, and we are grateful for their perseverance as it has taken a number of years to get to this point.”
Fernie SAR and Fernie Alpine Resort also encourage backcountry users to attend a professionally taught avalanche safety-training program, such as those offered by Avalanche Canada.
“Avalanches are a very real hazard for all backcountry users in this area. We hope that a combination of attending avalanche courses and practicing skills at this site will assist in preparing people for the realities of companion rescue,” Piney noted. “While Fernie SAR can and does respond to avalanche rescues every year, the reality is that the highest probability of a successful rescue lies in the hands of the people who are on scene at the time of an incident occurring.”
The project received funding from numerous supporters, including The Columbia Basin Trust, Fernie Alpine Resort, Fernie Search and Rescue, MEC, Teck and The Guides Hut.