Friday, 19 December 2014

A New Road Taken

Quite a month December for change. A life of uncertainty for employment and income but certainty that it was right to take the track i/we are on having arrived at this fork in the road. Going from the security of a salary to being self employed with my bike mechanic skills and using what I know of the mountains to earn a living and with Fiona taking a well earned recuperation. Training in avalanche rescue skills and recovery and retraining has been interesting and good personal development. It's always good to learn from outside your own clan or peer group and pick up new things.  The "net" also plays its part, as while practical skills must be practiced, Skype, Facetime etc mean that (like video conferencing) you find yourself as part of groups training 5,000 miles away.
Avy 101 Glencoe Mountain. Pic by James Robertson

My time with JSMTC was a pause in life where as Fiona was with BASP we had a reliable income and stability to bring up a young family and be at home. They are now fledged (mostly) and both Fiona and I are now looking forward to this new phase. We never look too far ahead. This weeks milestones were her annual review with her surgeon as the big one, and my last meet with my old colleagues at JSMTC which was a nice social. I will miss them but the road JSMTC wanted me to travel came at a time when I couldn't go down it.

I have to get the new avalanche training park installed up at Glencoe before the first course on the 27th Dec. I have my R9 Recco to demo to Scottish MRT's as I am now a Recco trainer. Both Glencoe Ski Patrol and Glencoe Mountain Rescue have a Recco now.  Keith Hill did a great job of getting a Recco for the ski mountain and we had a good day over at Braemar with Peter Vieder of the Bergrettung but sadly not enough time. I am due to train GMRT on the use of Recco as its part of the contract, so maybe in the next couple of weeks we will get that done also.

A big thanks to Anatom Ltd for supplying demo transceivers for this winters avy courses. The reliable BCA Trackers are always good. A big thanks also to Noble custom and Ortovox for supporting the courses with safety academy kit. And biggest thanks of all to Andy Meldrum of Glencoe Mountain who backs the avalanche education all the way and the ski patrol and hill staff who's patience and help make it all happen.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A Book and DVD for Christmas

This is not a book to cheer you up but never the less its an uplifting and interesting read about a journey from tragedy back to life and happiness.  It's a must for anyone who guides in the mountains and will definitely make you think when in avalanche terrain.  Amazon synopsis below:

On January 20, 2003, at 10:45 a.m., a massive avalanche released from Tumbledown Mountain in the Selkirk Range of British Columbia. Tonnes of snow carried 13 members of two guided back country skiing groups down the 37-degree incline of a run called La Traviata and buried them. After a frantic hour of digging by remaining group members, an unthinkable outcome became reality. Seven people were dead.
The tragedy made international news, splashing photos of the seven dead Canadian and US skiers on television screens and the pages of newspapers. The official analysis did not specifically note guide error as a contributing factor in the accident. This interpretation has been insufficient for some of the victims' families, the public and some members of the guiding community.
Why did the guiding team seemingly ignore a particularly troublesome snow pack? Why were two groups travelling so close together? Were the guides adhering to best practises for terrain selection and snow stability evaluation? What motivated them to go there?
Buried is the assistant guides story. It renders an answerable truth about what happened by delving deep into the human factors that played into putting people in harms way. The story begins buried metres deep in snow, and through care-filled reflection emerges slowly like spring after a long winter, nurturing a hopeful, courageous dialogue for all who make journeys through the mountains of their life. The story illustrates the peace that comes from accountability and the growth that results from understanding.

Also about the same tragedy and well worth watching for it's superb ski scenes is "A Life Ascending" about the life of the head guide at SME of whom much is said in "Buried".  You can make up your own mind about him.  I have!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Avalanche Course Dates and Equipment Offers

Avalanche 101 at Glencoe Mountain.  A serious subject, but no reason why learning can't be fun!
Due to the success of last years courses hosted by Glencoe Mountain we are pleased to offer the following dates for courses this winter:

Saturday 27th Dec 2014
Saturday 10th Jan 2015
Saturday 31st Jan 2015
Friday 6th Feb 2015
Friday 13th Feb 2015
Friday 20th Feb 2015

Further dates to come for February including weekday courses if there are groups and demand

These are £40 per person with shovel, probe and beacon free to try for folk who don't have their own. I may have some demo beacons which you can try. While there won't be a lot of free skiing, we will be skiing about during scenarios and there is the chance of a quick blast at lunch and at the end of the hill training before meeting to debrief at the Cafe Ossian. I hope to be able to organise lift passes at a special rate. This is an avalanche avoidance course with beacon training following the teaching format of BCA's 101 system.
  • Weather snow and meteo
  • Avalanche release
  • Victim triggered avalanche: Snap, Crackle and Pop
  • Avalanche Forecast Interpretation 
  • Pre trip planning and pre depart Beacon checks
  • 4 "A"'s  of planning and slope assessment
  • Slope assessment the 3 "C"s before you drop in 
  • Beacon Searching 101: Three phases of a search, including signal spike, antenna orientation and smart antenna technology, Micro Search Strips/3 circle, Mark/Flagging Pitfalls and Problems
  • Probing 101: Including radial probing during pinpoint
  • Digging 101: Strategic shoveling and conveyor shoveling
  • Victim recovery:  Triple "H"
This training meets the basic log book requirement for avalanche level 1 for the British Association of Ski Patrollers

I can supply the full range of Ortovox, Back Country Access, Arva, Dynafit and Movement ranges of equipment. If you buy a Beacon (transceiver) from me I am more than happy to run a free familiarty session up the hill. While there may be cheap deals "online" you won't be buying from someone who knows the strengths and weak points of various beacons, who has been at the sharp end of victim recovery and can offer proffessional advice and training on the slopes.

Pre Season Avalanche Safety Offers

Transceivers (Avalanche Beacons)
Ortovox Zoom+  £159  A good basic 3 antenna beacon

Ortovox 3+  £225 New model with software upgrade and mark feature.  3 antenna with smart antenna technology

Ortovox Zoom+ Safety Box (Badger Shovel, Economic 240 Probe & Zoom+ Beacon) £216
Tracker DTS £160 Only 2 Antenna but still superfast.

Tracker 2 £225 The fastest and best beacon, simple, reliable and 5 star IMHO. 3 antenna and SP mode

Tracker 3 £265  Small 3 antenna beacon with big picture view and signal suppression

ARVA “Neo” £225 The Neo is a fast 3 antenna beacon with mark feature. Scored 5/5 in recent Beacon Reviews test
Ortovox “Beast”  £43

BCA B1 Ext £49 Cracking shovel that extends, digs well and is good for snow profiles

B2 Ext £54 Bigger blade than the B1 and also excellent
Ortovox Economic 240 £35 A good enough simple probe for those on a budget

Ortovox HD pfa 240 £55  Better, stronger and recommended if your serious

BCA Stealth 240 £54 Very fast deployment with the legendary BCA quality

BCA Stealth 270 £59 As above but even stronger and longer this is the one for when the shit hits the fan as a professional

BCA Stealth 300 £64 Strong, long and fast to deploy this is best for search and rescue teams dealing with deep burials.

All the above come from a Scottish distributor (me) and with the manufacturer warranty.  I am a listed BCA avy educator, ortovox safety academy and pro member of the American avalanche association. You have a problem I will sort it.  As an add on benefit, I am happy to do some free basic beacon training at one of our sponsored training parks.  I can move a little on price for larger single orders. I am happy to take orders up the hill to Glencoe in season but will charge some P&P at a token rate for posting and standard parcel force for large orders.

email me on

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Signal Overlap & "Marking"

I thought it worth re posting this little experiment I did with a Canadian SOS F1 (re boxed Ortovox) analogue with a couple of digital beacons pre season. Always worth being aware of these little glitchy things!

If you have a beacon with a "mark" feature beware of signal overlap. Listen to the audio signals from this old analog beacon. Analog is good for demonstrating signal overlap because of the audio picking up and letting you hear all signals. This short home experiment I did illustrates overlap, as two pulses merge to become one for a time.  Imagine you have four vehicles on a track. One travelling at 20mph, one at 30, one at 40 and one at 50mph.  At some point all 4 would be in line and seem as one. So like the vehicles the more beacons on transmit the more chance of signal overlap.  There is a risk when you "mark", that you mark two as one therefore missing one victim, or more if its a really big scenario.  Manufacturers try and address this by varying the pulse rate. Imagine what would happen in a large group with the same Beacon pulsing at the same rate!  But - there is a limit to how much they can do this before performance is affected. Therefore there is still very realistic possibility of synchronisation of the signal and marking two. Click this link also:

Signal overlap is more frequent with 3 and even more with 4 beacons. For that reason on training session limit your transmitting beacons to less than 4 as you might confuse them. Establishing as soon as possible how many are in a party, how many have beacons, and how many victims are left out off the tip can help the rescue leader establish if the search is compromised and the searchers can try and separate any overlapping signals.

Many folk have failed the North American ski guide test because of signal overlap. The test usually consists of one fairly easy to find beacon and two that are in close proximity. It's these two close proximity that can catch folk out. For this reason its safer to use a simple 3 antenna beacon and search in micro strips or if its flat the DAV three circle method.  I have an obvious vested interest being a BCA retailer but hope I am being objective. I find the Tracker 1 and 2 both superior for this type of test with the SP mode invaluable.

I can't say much about Pieps which is the only make I have not tested but have seen in action in multiples and it does well. The Barryvox pulse has great advanced features especially with V 3.04 software but seems to want you to stop and stand still a lot. The one beacon that does really well is the ARVA "Neo" and is the only one with a mark feature which I have found reliable in mark/flagging. Like all of the beacons with this feature you need to be aware of overlap.  However if you want a beacon with that feature its a remarkably well priced beacon at £225 from me.

Obviously I am in the market to sell transceivers but you can see the Neo's 5 star review here
A very reliable avalanche beacon with a mark feature and a very good price indeed at £225. 5* Rating

It beats a lot of more highly priced rivals hands down. Oddly the guts of the Neo are made by Barryvox, so its from a reliable and long standing company with technical expertise so it seems off pitching it against the Mummut branded Barryvox Pulse.  Yet it performs the basic functions better in my opinion. The Pulse is possibly more aimed at rescuers with it's many advanced features such as "Rescue Send" etc