Technology ‘no substitute for training in avalanche’

Gadgets are still no match for trained companions when an avalanche strikes, a Salzburg mountain rescuer said today (Fri).Josef Schiefer, 45, from St. Johann im Pongau, said taking an avalanche course and being trained in how to use sensors and shovels were also important, adding that such equipment should always be brought when ski touring.Schiefer is somewhat sceptical of highly-touted avalanche airbags. The media has hyped the 700-Euro devices, he said, but they were “not a panacea”, despite manufacturersÂ’ claims that they would allow 98 per cent of avalanche victims to emerge uninjured.”A person caught in an avalanche must in a stressful situation find the time to trigger the gas cartridges to inflate the side wings of his rucksack,” and statistics indicated that often did not happen, he said. “The systems offered need more scientific analysis.”If caught in an avalanche, he said, a person should try to get rid of skis and poles, which function like an anchor, and use a swimming motion to try to stay on top of the snow.In a slow-moving avalanche, he said, a person should cross his arms in front of his chest and face and cover his face with his hands to try to create an air space when eventually coming to rest.He said the new “avalanche ball” – a float to pinpoint where an avalanche victim is buried – was useful, but cautioned that people who bought them had to learn how they worked.The avalanche ball shoots a spring-loaded nylon ball from the top of a rucksack that will stick out of the snow to alert rescuers.Maker Fournier & Venier in Mieming, Tyrol, says special fabric and strong ultra thin cords connecting the ball – which sells for 180 Euros – means it can cut through even densely packed snow and stay inflated.”Being located quickly is the single most important factor in surviving an avalanche, and this brings rescuers right to you more quickly than anything else around,” said a company spokesman.An average of 26 people die in avalanches in the Austrian Alps every year.