The next meeting of Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team—all in a steroid-free environment—will be Monday night, November 1, 6:30 pm at the Granlibakken Resort's Ski Hut in Tahoe City. Your attendance assures the Team's strengths remain potent, its agility light-of-foot, and its mentals happily coupling. Participation by you is critical to the Team's vitality. Or, you could just come for the beer. Either way, prepare to be invigorated!
At this autumn's bi-annual meeting of the International Snow Science Workshop in Jackson, Wyoming, a good deal of discussion was dedicated to rescue, avalanche rescue. With the advent of three-antennae digital transceiver technology, composite probes and shovels, and re-breathing skier snorkels, avalanche rescue gear is long out of the closet. But unlike avalanche cords and 2.3 kHz transceivers, one tool of avalanche rescue that's been around for decades and plain refuses to go away is the radar searching system known as Recco.
Developed in 1983, the Swedish Recco System incorporates a transmitting unit that sends out a long wave (radar) signal. If the wave hits a reflecting transponder its frequency is doubled and the radar receiver registers this signal. What makes the Recco ideal for finding a buried avalanche victim is that the return signal is highly directional, i.e. the direction the receiving antennae points with a hot signal is very nearly the exact direction of the buried transponder. This, of course, is ideal. For a truly directional "beacon" distance would no longer be a factor. You'd just follow the signal direction through a straight line until the direction flops 180 degrees. You are then coincident with the transmitter. This is how an avalanche beacon should work. There are, however, other avalanche rescue obstacles the Recco faces.
The transponders, which are small copper-antennae diodes, need to be attached to the buried skier. These are small (postage stamp sized) and passive (no power source needed), and Recco has become newly aggressive in lobbying ski clothing and boot manufacturers to incorporate them into their garments. Many companies already have, but few of those companies traditionally ally themselves with backcountry skiers. Nothing, however, would stop you from duct-taping a few diodes to your ski boots and parka sleeves—functional and good looking too. The Recco transmitter and receiving antennae are also not very portable; it's not something most of us would be carrying on, say, the back side of Mt. Shasta.
In the middle 1980s Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team was given a Recco system. The model back then had a backpack-mounted transmitter slightly smaller, and a whole lot less comfortable, than a bed mattress. The unit was hard-wired to a fiberglass dish antennae that would not have looked out of place on a Flash Gordon stage set. Despite ongoing ray-gun jokes from those around you, the thing worked really good. Circuitry components in many electronics reflected the signal, including cameras, avalanche transceivers (even when turned off), or Astral Tunes (the MP3 player of the day). These increased the chance that the Recco could find you even if you weren't wearing one of their diode "bandaids." But the unit was too big and bulky, the bandaids too esoteric. We donated the unit to Alpine Meadows Ski Area.
Today's Recco is much smaller, lighter, and portable. Weighing in at about three pounds with a backpack the size of a TV dinner, it still doesn't pass muster for backcountry use. Even though, it does have a very real application for ski area rescue or on-board a helicopter. As of last winter, at least 46 ski areas in the United States had Recco units on-hand, including Alpine Meadows, Bear Valley, Heavenly, June Mountain, Kirkwood, Mammoth, Mt. Rose, Squaw Valley, and Sugar Bowl. Last winter, when Drew Gashler was buried in an avalanche on Donner Summit (January 1, 2004) with his transceiver turned off, the search evolved to locating him with a probe line. Bob Moore, the Tahoe National Forest snow ranger, was bringing in a Recco unit from Sugar Bowl when Drew was located with a probe. Chances are the Recco would have located Drew's body. When searching in, near, or around a ski area, or when searching for a buried person without the aid of transceivers, the Recco may prove to be a valuable tool for the Nordic Team.
As we move into the weather months be aware that the following outings may (suddenly) involve snow travel. Please show up for the Team trainings prepared. Also, please let the training organizer know you'll attend.
October 24: Karen Honeywell (546-8609) will lead a hike (or ski) from Martis Peak to the Mt. Rose area. Meet at the Team garage—223 Fairway Drive, Tahoe City (behind the Chevron station)—at 7:30 am or at North Tahoe Beach at 7:45.
October 30: One more reminder of the Tahoe Community Nursery School Ski Swap today, 10:00 am through 4:00 pm at the North Tahoe Conference Center in Kings Beach. For more info check out www.tahoeschool.com or (530) 210-6473.
November 4: Randy Sharp (587-6382) will lead instruction on the use of GPS receivers. This "classroom" session will be the first of a two-part instruction (see below, November 11 for part 2). Meet at the Team garage at 6:30 pm.
November 8 & 9: John Pang (581-2641) is offering CPR courses these nights, November 8 for full certification, November 9 for a refresher. The courses will be three hours in length, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, location to be announced.
November 11: Randy Sharp's (587-6382) GPS course, take two. This will be the "field" edition of the course. We'll meet at the Team garage at 6:30 pm then head up to Page Meadows.
November 14: Paul Honeywell (546-8609) is organizing a hike (or ski) up Snow Valley Peak. Meet at the Team garage at 7:30 am or at North Tahoe Beach at 7:45.
November 20: An orienteering course is the order of the day up in the Mt. Rose area. Derek Wilson (525-5594) is the contact. Meet at the garage at 8:00 am or at North Tahoe Beach at 8:15.
November 23: It's critical that the goings-on back at the Communications Van/Command Post during our rescues remain in sync with and complimentary to the searchers. Keeping radio communications with a dozen or more skiers, snowcats, and snowmobiles (in sometimes widely differing areas) is a challenge and an absolute necessity. Monitoring each searcher's location is also mandatory to efficiently manage the resources available to the Team. Steve Twomey (525-7280) is organizing this Comm Van "awareness" night that will be valuable for every member of the Team, from dispatchers to coordinators to searchers. Meet at the Team garage at 6:00 pm.
Thankful Tahoe Vista isn't a "battleground state",
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