While shoveling might seem elementary, it usually consumes the majority of time during an avalanche beacon rescue. The most common mistakes are to begin shoveling right above the victim and not creating a large enough hole. For maximum efficiency, make your hole about one “wingspan” wide (if only one shoveler) and excavate downhill about 1.5 times the burial depth.
Aluminum shovels hold up better than plastic in real avalanche debris. Chop the snow into blocks, then scoop. Don’t pry. Oval shafts provide even greater safety, due to their increased strength along the prying axis.
- Once the victim is located, leave probe in place as a marker. Probe depth markings aid in determining optimum hole size.
- By excavating downhill from the probe, there will be less snow to move and you’re less likely to compact the snow over the victim’s limited air pocket.
- Start shoveling on your knees, throwing snow out the sides of your hole. Stand up when the snow surface rises above your waist.
- When the snow surface rises above your waist again, throw the debris downhill, out the end of your hole.
- If burial depth is greater than one meter, a “terrace” on the downhill side will enable you to throw snow clear of the hole.
- When you reach the victim, uncover their head first to maintain airway. A well-dug hole provides room for rescuers to maneuver.
- If two shovelers are available, work side-by-side, following the guidelines above, make the hole two “wingspans” wide.
- If more than two shovelers are available, then two should begin shoveling just downhill of the probe. One or two should begin shoveling downhill of them (1.5 times the burial depth), following the guidelines above.
- When the uphill shovelers are up to their waist and must start throwing snow downhill, the lower two shovelers should exit the hole to rest and prepare the area for first aid and evacuation. Rotate shovelers once a minute.
- In deep burials exceeding two meters, it might be difficult to throw snow clear of the hole even with a “terrace” structure. In this case, one downhill shoveler should exit the hole. The uphill shovelers then throw their snow to this position and the remaining downhill shoveler should move it to the surface.
In recreational avalanche courses, it is more important to review these techniques—which apply to all avalanche rescues—than techniques for “special-case” multiple burials—which apply to less than one percent.