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Recco vs Transceivers

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Rather than clutter up the JHSP thread, I thought it might be useful to separate out this element of the discussion into a new thread. Here's my question: can you count on a Recco reflector if you unfortunately get caught in an avalanche?

I'm uninformed on this topic, but from reading about the Snowbird accident, it appeared that for ski patrol to use the Recco detector, they had to evacuate all those assisting in the search as there is no way (I guess) to turn the reflectors on the rescuers off. If so, doesn't that mean that you are much better off wearing a transceiver? Does a probe line need to effectively stop to use a Recco detector?

After the events of the last couple of weeks, I'm thinking that I'm going to be wearing my transceiver whenever I'm skiing big mountain terrain in-bounds.

post #2 of 14
Here is just an FYI about transceivers in case someone (like me) wants to know more.

I might be getting one soon.

post #3 of 14


I don't pretend to be an expert on these things, having not ever been involved in an avy rescue situation, but a couple thoughts occur to me.

There are four possible methods of locating a completely buried victim; beacon, dogs, recco and probe line. Of the four, beacon is probably the fastest and a probe line the slowest. As between dogs and recco, I don't know which is faster, but they may not interfere with each other, so they could be used simultaneously.

A probe line also has the problem of definitely interfering with an avy dog search (too many competing scents), a high likelihood of interfering with a recco scan (many recco reflectors in the probe line), and a real possibility of interfering with a beacon search (if one or more people on the probe line fail to turn their beacon to receive, or if a beacon resets to transmit).

As a result, while a probe line should be organized, it may make sense to hold back the line until the other tools are tried, first. Where things get difficult is where the beacon search gets nothing and volunteers start to organize a probe line before the avy dogs and/or recco detector arrives. Even here, it may make sense to back off the probe line and give the recco detector and the dogs a chance.

For what it is worth, I just ordered recco reflectors for my wife and I. I am holding off on a beacon for now, but could be interested in the forthcoming tracker 2.
post #4 of 14
A Recco is nice when it's already in something you're wearing, but I haven't heard of many people actually being saved by them. It just takes a while to get the device to the burrial, and when minutes count and you're in a situation where it takes 10-15 minutes just to get the recco unit out to you, hey, it's better than nothing.

As for a beacon, it doesn't work miracles. Don't expect it to be a magical talisman. The key to beacons working comes from your skiing with knowledgable people who have all the equipment they need (I saw plenty of people in Alta this week who had beacons but no shovels... boy, that's useful) and the knowledge to use them quickly. The key, as with everything, is to take responsibility for yourself -- ski terrain you're comfortable with and if you want to ride somewhere that you have serious avy concerns about, be sure you're with people who you'd trust your life with.
post #5 of 14
I am one of those guys that likes looking at data.

On the subject of Recco lets looks at the data in the book "Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain" . On page 8 there is graph on Avalanche Survival vs Burial Time for 422 Avalanche victims. The graph does not include victims killed by Trauma which account for about 25 percent of avalanche deaths.

The graph on page 8 shows:
  • 92% live when burial time under 15 minutes - Obviously the victim must be wearing a beacon to make this possible or be close to surface with some clothing sticking out of the snow.
  • After 15 minutes, the survival rate drops quickly leaving only 27 percent alive for a burial time of 35 minutes.
  • The good news here is that between 35 minutes and 120 minutes the survival rate does not decrease very much. At 120 minutes of burial time, the survival rate is 20 percent.
  • It is thought that the victims that survive after 35 minutes must of had some sort of air pocket.
Let me say that I have no knowledge on how resorts perform searches for victims wearing Recco. I wish there was more information on this subject. Given the statistics in a book reviewed by guys like Doug Coombs, Recco "may" give you a 27 to 20 percent chance of survival for inbounds avalanches at resorts that have the capability to find victims wearing Recco.

It should also be noted that inbounds avalanche deaths are extremely rare.
post #6 of 14
habokamike, good question and one that has been asked before, BUT the technology is changing. Here is a good article on the latest RECCO receivers. The problem with RECCO in the past is that it has essentially been a body finder due to the fact the receiver was large and had to be deployed from a central location. Also, there are very few receivers available. On the other hand, almost all ski patrol, and a large number of backcountry skiers carry 457 frequency transceivers.

As said by Catskills, the avalanche burial rescue game is one of speed. There is precious little time to initiate, conduct a search, detect the victim and extricate him/her. Traditional RECCO is unlikely to be part of a rescue and instead be part of a recovery. The new portable RECCO receivers offer the possibility that they will be useful for rescue if enough units are deployed.

If you ski in or below avalanche terrain, a traditional transceiver is much more valuable for both your personal rescue, and the ability to assist in an emergency. The best part about owning a transceiver is the education you are likely to obtain as a part of owning it. I can't imagine owning one and not at least reading some books or taking an avalanche awareness class or avalanche I training. If you buy a transceiver thinking you are buying immunity, it may actually be more hazardous to your health than not owning one. JMHO.
post #7 of 14
I saw this recently on another forum
I think it was BackCountry magazine published an article last year that reviewed the last 10 years of avalanche stats in North America and Europe.
They wanted to review the stats and see how many people who had beacons, were completely buried during an avalanche, didn't die from trauma during the avalanche, and had someone there to try and dig them out actually were dug out and saved because they had a beacon. Their conclusions from actual data were pretty dismal.

First, for the vast majority of avalanche victims, beacons are useless because they die from trauma during the avalanche (hitting rocks, crushed by trees, multiple bone breaks, limbs torn off, etc.).

The BackCountry article followed this logic.
If you start with all backcountry avalanche incidents and then
1. eliminate those that died from trauma.
2. eliminate those that didn't get fully buried and so could be easily found and dug out.
3. eliminate situations were they didn't have someone to dig them out for various reasons.

4. and then compare the survival rates of those with and without beacons, it turns out that those with beacons did (I think it was) about 5-7% better. I'll have to dig up the article and post a reference.

Now, the reasons for this small difference could be due to a lot of factors including lack of proper training and practice on how to use the beacons, the quality of the leadership and group work during teh search, etc. But . . .

In a recent study by Albi Sole (probably the world's leading avalanche researcher), he found that training did not have significant effect on the survival rate. The most important things were those factors that affected decision making around whether or not you put yourself in a risk situation.
So, get avalanche training and use your training before you enter terrain subject to sliding, inbounds or not.
post #8 of 14
I carry both with me inbounds when the avalanche threat is high enough to warrant caution (right now is a good example). When the threat is low, I would forgo the transceiver and only go with the Recco tags on my helmet and boots.

I normally ski alone (inbounds obviously), so that changes my strategy for carrying equipment. As a victim, I would be counting on patrol or another skier to show up on the scene with a transceiver or Recco to find me quickly. As a potential rescuer, the transceiver makes a lot of sense to carry, and I also have a compact probe too. Just read some of the threads about how helpless people feel at the scene of an avalanche without any tools, and I think carrying a transceiver and probe really increases your chances of saving someone.
post #9 of 14

Researchers using data gathered by the Swiss Avalanche Research Center at Davos for accidents between 1981 and 1991 have plotted the survival probability of a victim buried under snow against time. This figures show that of 123 skiers dug out of an avalanche during the first 15 minutes of burial only 8 were dead with 6 having sustained injuries as a result of the avalanche itself.

This figure was quite surprising for researchers, despite advances in medicine and search and rescue such as the widespread introduction of Recco equipment the death rate from avalanches remains fairly constant at around 25-30 per year in France or around 60% of victims on extraction. This is largely due to the average response time of the search and rescue services which is 45 minutes in France. This is the time to process the emergency call, warm the motor of a helicopter, fly to and locate the scene of the accident then deploy the search and rescue services. Two thirds of avalanche victims will succumb in that critical half hour.

The basic message is that to survive an avalanche you have to be rescued within 15 minutes, with half an hour to wait before the rescue services arrive on the scene this comes down to your friends. Your life depends on carrying and being proficient in the use of avalanche transceivers and having snow probes and shovels. In ideal conditions it will take around 5 minutes to locate a victim with a transceiver and 10 to 15 minutes to dig them out from the average depth of burial which is 1 meter.

However these figures shouldn't create a false sense of security. In an exercise the author performed with the large Davos rescue services it took 45 minutes to locate and find 5 victims in an avalanche site using transceivers, dogs and probes. If you follow the rules you should never have more than 1 person caught in an avalanche but you may have to climb back up to rescue them which will waste precious minutes and energy.

post #10 of 14
Beacon (and partner) = Best possible chance for survival.
Recco = Body recovery.
Nothing at all = They'll find your mangled remains in the spring.
post #11 of 14
Originally Posted by Aleph Null View Post
The key to beacons working comes from your skiing with knowledgable people who have all the equipment they need (I saw plenty of people in Alta this week who had beacons but no shovels... boy, that's useful) and the knowledge to use them quickly. The key, as with everything, is to take responsibility for yourself -- ski terrain you're comfortable with and if you want to ride somewhere that you have serious avy concerns about, be sure you're with people who you'd trust your life with.
Riding inbounds with just a transceiver isn't quite as useless as it sounds. SOP for patrol is to do a beacon search immediately before resorting to probes or even RECCO. All that being said, I ski with shovel and probe as well as my transceiver. I'm just used to the pack i guess.
post #12 of 14
Originally Posted by DropCliffsNotBombs View Post
Beacon (and partner) = Best possible chance for survival.
Recco = Body recovery.
Nothing at all = They'll find your mangled remains in the spring.
ahh, what he said!

I do know how most resorts use recco vs. beacons. All patrollers in avalanche prone resorts are trained in avalanche S&R, they carry beacons and initiate a beacon search immediately. Beacons are a magic immunity token just an insurance policy. The resorts that are on the Recco program (and it's not all of them) have one or maybe two of the Recco transceivers. When dealing with a potential burial they will initiate a beacon search, call for backup. If the resort at which you were buried has Recco they will bring the transceiver with the backup searchers. Usually by that time it's well over 15 minutes, time for body recovery
post #13 of 14
Here's some info from a Recco manager at TGR:

Also see the followup post #61.
post #14 of 14
Every patroller has a transceiver. In the inbounds slide I was in several were on scene in less than 30 seconds. The Recco was 5-10 minutes later.

There are transmitters which work just like a transceiver for the buried but can't be used to search. They are small, light, cheap and hard to find. A lot of patrols use them on dogs, but I would think heliski outfits would hand them out to untrained guests too.
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