Rescue Equipment and Techniques

A successful rescue in a snow-burial accident starts with having the correct equipment with you and ends with knowing how to use it efficiently.

If you are buried by an avalanche, your life depends entirely on your backcountry partners. They must locate you and dig you out. It is therefore extremely important that both you and your partners have the necessary equipment. Without the minimum of emergency rescue equipment; beacon, probe, and shovel, the chance of survival is almost zero if you are buried.


The avalanche beacon is an absolute necessity if traveling through avalanche terrain. Without the avalanche transceiver, it is nearly impossible to be located alive. Its purpose is to make the user findable in case of avalanche burial, as well as to find a buried member of your group if they are buried. Before any trip, all beacons in your group should be tested in both send and search modes. Batteries should be checked to ensure that all users have at least 75% of their battery capacity.


After locating the general area of the buried victim, the avalanche probe is used to find the exact position of the person buried. The probe is inserted vertically downward into the snow until contact is made with the victim's body. Be careful to keep the probe exactly vertical while probing into the snow. depending on burial depth, even a small angle can deceive your perception of their position under the snow, especially if deeply buried.


Once you have located the victim with the probe, leave the probe in the snow so that you have a point to follow while digging down to your victim. This will also give you critical information on the depth of the burial. Your shovel is critical to moving this snow - avalanche debris are often extremely hard, so it is essential to have a shovel which can withstand the rough use, preferably something collapse-able which can easily be stowed in your pack.

Correct use of avalanche equipment can save valuable minutes in rescue situations.

Search and rescue is something that is taught in avalanche courses across the globe. In order to learn and practice the procedure, we recommend taking an in-person avalanche course in order to learn the right habits for this procedure before going out on your own.

First Steps

When there are multiple rescuers, the most experienced one should lead the search process.

Everyone who is not buried switches their avalanche beacon from “Send” to “Search”.

Call the emergency number, 112 in Europe and 911 in the United States, in order to report the incident.

Start the search at the last point where you saw the victim above the surface, searching below this point in the direction of the avalanche flow. While searching, you should scout the avalanche debris for objects or partially buried victims. This may be the victim themself, or a sign of where they are under the snow.

Signal Search

If there are multiple rescuers, the search area is covered parallel, with a width of 20m between the rescuers and 10m to the edge. Should there be only one rescuer the meander technique is used. There should be 20m between each meander and 10m to the edge. When you are 2-3m from the victim, lead the avalanche transceiver all the way down to the snow and search crossways until you find the lowest value. Mark this point in the snow.

Victim Location with Probe

Remove and assemble your probe. Probe vertically downwards in a spiral pattern, starting at the point where You start searching where you found the lowest value and search the next place 25cm further away moving in an outwards circle. When the person is located with the probe, leave the probe standing as a reference point and start digging. Note the depth of the burial using the measurements on the side of the probe.

Victim Recovery

There are different techniques for digging the victim out, depending on how many rescuers there are. In all cases, it is the fastest to dig downslope from the burial site - roughly 1.5x the burial depth away from the probe. If you have multiple rescuers, the V-shaped excavation is most effective. The goal of this excavation is to remove enough snow that you create a large flat area where the recovered victim can be safely removed and treated. The point of the V is closest to the probe itself, where one person digs and throws the snow backward to their group members who send it to the next set of rescuers behind them. The first person digs right down close to the avalanche probe and throws the snow to the next person. If there are few rescuers, the strategic excavation is the most effective. Dig directly inwards with the purpose of locating them as soon as possible. After clearing their airways, you can continue digging in order to safely free them from the avalanche debris.

Learn from the Pros

Taking an avalanche course is the best way to turn this information into usable knowledge in an emergency situation.

Find an Avalanche Course Near You