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How many lives would be saved by avalanche cords?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
DG Orf asked me about these on another thread. Here's a description from a noted authority on the subject: Colin Fraser, author of the famous book 'The Avalanche Enigma' (1966):

"[The avalanche cord] is nothing more than a red cord about 30 yards long and about 1/4 inch in diameter. You tie one end round your waist and leave the rest like a long tail. The principle is that part of the light cord will remain on the surface if you are buried by an avalanche. The rescuers find the cord, pull it out of the snow until it goes down vertically and then dig you out. It is cheap, simple and has saved hundreds of lives."

"The avalanche cord was thought of in the early 1900s by Eugen Oertel, a Bavarian mountaineer. The use of the cord has met with ridicule at various times...My comment is that, today, those who know avalanches and whose jobs expose them to danger are delighted...in return for the almost 100% chance of speedy rescue which the cord offers. Ideally every skier embarking on a tour should carry one in his rucksack."

If hundreds of lives were saved up to 1966, I can only conclude that hundreds of lives have been lost by many people untrained in the use of transceivers who rely on them. Or people who've been buried with no detection equipment at all.

Then there are complex and expensive devices like the Avalanche Balloon System, which have gained acceptance. But the avalanche cord - the simplest and probably best idea - which anyone could knock up for a few pounds - has faded into history.

Can anyone explain this? What do you think would most likely save you - a cord like this, or a transceiver?
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Where does the cord live when you're skiing David?
Quote:

You tie one end round your waist and leave the rest like a long tail.


That sounds like you ski along with a 30yd tail of cord behind Puzzled If so, I'm not surprised that it has faded into history as you put it. Razz
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I would guess it would be somewhat similar to the powder trails for skis, no need to deploy it till just before the avalanche hits, it coud probably be improved by adding a small float to the end of the cord, but yes a good idea, certainly it would make for quick location of the casualty which as we all know is vital in the first 15 mins after an avalanche.

Thank you david for replying to my question
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I thought of that DG, but the ski streamers are "automatic". I suppose the cord would have to be coiled up and attached to the outside of your clothing somehow, and you'd have to have time/opportunity to release it. If it was such a good idea though, wouldn't guides still use them? After all, since the guide is hopefully good enough to avoid potential avalanches, if there is one it will take them unawares and the guide is likely to be the one taken in a slide - then he/she hopes that the clients are well trained in transceiver use! Why trust to this alone? No guide I have been with has ever mentioned cords. Just thinking there must be a reason.
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Fortunately I've never experienced an avalanche up close, so I don't really know how the snow behaves when everything is tumbling around. However, it seems unlikely to me that the cord would "float" sufficiently so that when everything came to a rest part of it was visible on the top surface of the avalanche debris. Does the snow move in waves like turbulent water, or is the movement completely chaotic? Surely there is a significant chance that the rope would end up submerged along with the skier/boarder, giving it's user a false sense of security and making them likely to take more risks on avalanche-prone slopes?
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rob@rar.org.uk, Avalanche flow is a complicated subject as it depends on the type of avalanche, powder avalanches are so fast that the blast wave in front of the snow tends to kill you but if it doesn't the powder setting like concrete in your lungs will suffocate you, other avalanches however are more survivable, they tend to flow rather like a mountain stream full of boulders, a friend of mine went off piste 2 years ago on his board and found himself burried up to his waist after starting a small one, he was lucky and has sworn to stick with on piste from now on (yeah right). Apparently it is possible to swim in these so long as the flow rate stays slow and the it runs out fairly quickly I have no wish to find out however Shocked
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Alan Craggs, I think you'd have time unless it was a powder avalanche see my comment above to rob about those 200kph monsters
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Alan Craggs, I don't think that the avalanche balloons are automatic, but as we are supposed to abandon poles and skis in and avalanche situation would loosely putting one end of the tape on the pole wrist strap and pushing the rest up the sleeve work? The pole would pull out the tape before hopefully becoming detached from the tape. If you also use ski tapes though there could be a confusing mess of tapes! Any thoughts on material with natural flotation that wouldn't take up much space?
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Martin Nicholas, the same sort of tape used to find skis but maybe with "Help Skier burried here >>" in several languages and arrows pointing in the direction of the skier so that if the tape was discoverd halfway along its length they wouldnt have to search in both directions
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with "snowHeads patent avalanche tape" running through it like a stick of rock NehNeh Razz

not sure about that Martin - my sleeve cuffs tend to be fairly tight, much more so than trouser cuffs where the ski streamers come out quite readily. Also not sure about 30yds of tape stuck up my sleeve!

The balloons are not automatic but have an easily and qickly accessible release mechanism. Now I have skied with a guide wearing one of those...
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Perhaps the answer can be found in the climbing/mountaineering aspect of mountain use.

Only relatively recently have we had waterproof ropes and such. When the cord becomes damp, which is not uncommon due to the abundance of surrounding frozen water, it goes rigid, but also becomes excessively heavily. Neither of theses atttributes are likely to help the cord to 'float' to the top of debris, regardless of length.

Another fact is the way avalanches cause destruction and freeze excessively quickly.
For example, if you were (unfortunately, or hopefully not, stupidly) caught in one, which also moved rocks and trees (not uncommon) in the 'right' circumstances, it would be quite easy for several things to happen - other debris may cut or damge the rope, thus it has a 'dead end' (quite literally if that is what you are relying on! Sad ), or it may become tangled around such, meaning you dig out the wrong section or a false end. Also, the rope would only very rarely "...go down vertically..." for them to dig you out.

The last point I would make is that if you attach it to your person, you are potentially supplying another 'anchor', much the same as skis, poles and backpacks, which it is suggested you try to remove if such circumstances arise. Imagine a rope around your waist pulling you hither and tither, whilst also squeezing the life from you.

Think i'll stick to transceiver work and its related techniques, from people who know what they're doing, as my last hope.... snowHead
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I'm surprised to see such a lot of sceptical comment. Firstly, with modern plastics technology I see no reason why a light tough tape rather than a rope couldn't be used. The lightness of the tape would float it.

Having started a slab avalanche in Val d'Isere I know that you can have zero warning - your feet simply go sideways (I was traversing the slope) and you're off. I was lucky enough that the slope flattened below. If it had continued at a pitch I'd probably have been a burial case.

I'd have more confidence in someone finding me quickly from a red tape than a transceiver. If you've ever used one you'll know that they require very methodical and time-consuming work - while the victim is suffocating by the minute.

I agree DGO's idea - the tape must have arrows - and an indication of how far the arrow is from the victim end of the tape.


Last edited by And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports. on Mon 6-09-04 13:48; edited 1 time in total
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David Goldsmith, sounds like at the very least a sensible extra precaution to me. Why not have both? But then there's the avalanche that 'sets like concrete', mentioned by DGO. Just how easily can a tape be pulled through several feet of this I wonder, if it has been buried in places, leading perhaps to false indications of location?
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You know it makes sense.
I agree with PG. If it is another precaution, then I'm not knocking it. However, if, as the originally posted quote reads to me, it is the only measure being used, I really would be looking for an alternate Guiding Service.

Having used Transceivers, although fortunately not for a real burial situation, I know what you mean by the methodical and time consuming work. However to be pulling on a tape, and then digging down several feet, or even meters, only to find that the tape was buried at that point and know goes off in another direction, requiring more time consuming, as well as energy sapping, digging through ice and snow, would equate to just as much time loss I would think.

Also, although they apparently have an excellent success rate, I am inclined to question the situations in which they did so well? After all, people generally tend to seek potentially more 'risky' areas now, in order to increase their 'thrill'. Also, we have no head to head stats comparing them to finds using beacons, as they are from two different ages....

David G, no offense, but if you'd rather go with a cord than a beacon, I'm afraid I for one won't be buddying you!! Wink rolling eyes snowHead
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Don't get me wrong. I think they should both be used, but I suspect that the avalanche 'tape' is way ahead in terms of cost-effectiveness.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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PG, I hate to say this but if you are in a powder avalanche the chances of survival are very low, what occurs is that the powder which is like dust gets sucked into your lungs via nose and mouth suffocating you, even if you keep those free of snow you will find the powder sets arround the body constricting your chest and making it impossible to move. I'm told that 15mins is your maximum life expectancy if trapped in one of those.

A typical powder avalanche weighs over 100,000 tons and travels at 200kph it will break tree trunks up to 250mm diameter and destroy wooden or brick buildings without stoping, your best chance verses one of these monsters is to get a reinforced concrete structure or a substantial amount of rock between it and you, at most you will probably have about 10 seconds to do so which may go somewhere to explaining my pessimism


However if in a wet or slab avalanche the chances of survival are much higher, if you get stuck in one these try to keep your arms and hands in front of your face and chest trying to keep an air space so that you can get air, when the avalanche stops you may be trapped below the level of the snow, snow will let air through so long as it does not melt and re freeze, so long as you have kept that air space you won't suffocate. Next if you can try digging yourself out, you will need to do this before the avalanche sets which occurs within minutes, being trapped inside a block of wite snow could be disorientating so before you dig try dribling from the mouth, this will always flow downwards so dig in the opposite direction
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ideally I would suggest both methods, the beacon will get people close to you where hopefully they will then find the tape with arrows on to guide them in
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Our discussion's got me wondering whether more skiers were found under avalanches in the days of safety straps (before ski brakes were invented - they tied your ski to your boot). In other words, were there many cases of rescuers finding a ski on the surface and digging along the strap to find the skier?
Safety straps were dumped because they were less than safe - you could be clobbered by the ski in a windmilling fall - but I wonder if they actually had a life-saving value?

The 'lost ski in powder' problem - which I seem to remember Ortovox addressing with a transceiver that additionally detected a buried ski (not sure if the device still exists) - never really existed in the days of safety straps because the ski was attached to the boot.

Anyway, those are my historical notes for today!
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Quote:

"snowHeads patent avalanche tape"

I think you just might have something there, Alan. It needs to be light, thin, strong, marked with arrows and distances, non water absorbing but the key point is the release mechanism since I doubt if anyone will want it trailing behind them. Why not roll the 'tail' up like a tape measure and tuck it into the fold at the back of of your snowHeads hat ? In the event of getting caught, you're likely to lose your hat, I assume, or you might be able to whip it off PDQ. Is there a market for this ??Only half in jest. Wink
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.... Conjures up images of miles and miles of http://snowheads.com tape billowing around resorts in windy weather - would do wonders for snowHeads membership numbers though Wink
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The key to this avalanche tape idea working is a thing called a spring box: the thing that pulls a tape measure back into its home or a t-bar back into its capsule. Unless there's a spring box, I think skiers are going to find it too much hassle to rewind the tape for each chairlift ride up.

Now, I've never learned the mystery of the tape measure - does the lateral curvature of the steel tape produce the retraction of the tape by itself, or is there an additional spring inside the case? I think we should be told, and I'm not opening one unless I have to.

Not that we're trying to create a tape measure here, of course.
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SnowHeads Ava Tape. You fix one end once at waist level - the patented device will have a fancy belt we can charge lots of money for. You run it up under your jacket and pop the rolled end into the flap of your hat - or we could have a purpose built little pocket on the hat. The thing stays there all the time - unless you get zapped in a slide - when you doff your hat and chuck it as far away as possible. No need to keep rewinding it. Haven't got my head round a version for skiier with helmets yet.
Puzzled

There is a coil spring inside good retractable steel tape measures. I think the tape is curved just to give it a bit of rigidity for single-handed measuring.
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Ian. Are you related to Heath Robinson?
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kuwait_ian, think the idea still needs some perfecting. Ok fixing it to your belt solves one problem, but now I've got this picture of hats coming off on the chairlift, wrapping around pylons/trees and snowHeads dangling from branches all over the spot. Still, they say there's no such thing as bad publicity...
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No relation to the great man

PG, hhhhmmmm - we'd need to have an alarm to warn the user that somebody had pulled it out and was tying it to the back of the chairlift.

DG - I'm disappointed - here we have a wonderful opportunity to patent a money-making snowHeads safety system (much more than a bit of red string) and you're bogged down in B&Q Wink Wink

On topic - did people really ski with 30m of red line running out behind them ??
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Ah I'd hate to point this out but it would be much more useful to have a rapid deployment of the line than a rapid retraction. If you could make it cheap enough it could even be a one use item as the only time you need it is when you are actually in an avalanche
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I see no reason why the tape has to be as long as 30 metres, especially if it readily floats. This is a device that warrants testing in induced avalanches - the job could be given to ski patrols using dummies on detonated avalanche sites.

I would have thought the tape could be no more than 10 metres, especially if it had an air-filled float at the end. But that's all a matter for experimentation.
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Quote:

Then there are complex and expensive devices like the Avalanche Balloon System

This is topic I am interested in, having had a few of my favourite picnic spots
decimated by avalanches.
I have heard that a new device is being developed in the middle east
to extricate skiers trapped by avalanches wihout the need of a search
and rescue team.
Basically the device consists of a goretex waistcoat with a thin lining of semtex on top of a kevlar inner lining connected to a pressure switch and motion sensors.
The idea being that a microprocessor in the vest assumes that a great increase in pressure coupled with a lack of motion for 1.5 minutes equals skier trapped in solidifed snow.
The semtex is then ignited thus blowing the snow away from the skier.
Recent tests of prototype vests have not been too successful, the testers being blown away rather than the snow. I believe they are now working on shaped charges to concentrate the force of the blast outwards,away from the skiers body.
It may be soon be in your local branch of slush and rubble, it will be called I believe:

The *****alanche safety vest.snowHead toosnowHead toosnowHead toosnowHead toosnowHead toosnowHead too

(Moderator's note - sorry pistemeister but your "joke" is, in my view, likely to cause offence or distress so I have blown it away snowHead Like the concept though Laughing Alan)
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pistemeister, ouch, by the way you will find a very unplesant effect whenever you do something as stupid as this. The explosive force outwards reacts with pressure inwards, the kevlar will stop penetration so all you have to imagine is being placed in an industrial corset and tightend to about a pressure of several tons per square inch, that will resort in complete destruction of all internal organs. Irealise you know that but I thought I'd just point it out for everyone else, !Kids don't try this at home !
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hmmm.. semtex aside - back to the snowheads avalanche tape...

All you need is for some modern strong plastic tape, suitably decorated, folded concertina-style into a small container.
Fold it up tight and have a tight-fitting lid on the box - a cigarette-box shaped container would be fine, with the tape coming out the top of the box.
Anchor the base of the tape to the inside base of the box, attach a small mass on the end of the tape leading out the box.
Fit a tight, waterproof lid with a quick-release mechanism that removes the whole lid. The pressure exerted on the lid from the compression of the tape will be sufficient to cause the lid to fly off.
The mass on the free end of the tape will cause the tape to self-extract (centrepetal forces), the concertina folding of the tape will allow it to exit the container freely and rapidly.

Problem solved. Copyright mine snowHead % to snowheads upkeep if anyone takes it up !
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 Poster: A snowHead
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modification to above design - use lid as mass which extracts tape. Cheaper to produce that way.....
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DG, there is a device that exists at present with a recoiling spring attached to 10m of tape - a retractable dog lead. Attach a small ball to the clip and hey presto! Better still attach an avalanche dog to the end of it and its a near perfect solution.
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About 20 years ago I read a book called "Avalanche" about a group of children from the Pestalozzi Childrens Village (for war orphans) skiing in the swiss alps just after the second world war. In the book it talks about using "avalanche cords" to help find each other if they are buried. I still have the book and found it was first published in 1954. The author, a guy named Rutgers van der Loeff, clearly had some knowledge of mountains and skiing. Regrettably I suspect that trailing a cord for many skiers will prove somewhat uncool despite its possible benefit. Incidentally depsite the fact the book is written for 12 to 16 year olds I looked it out and read it again today - sent shivers down my spine !!! Read it and you'll know what I mean!!
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I would imagine that these leads went out of fashion due to the change in nature of skiing, in the 1950's going off piste was far more common, mainly because pistes were not common in those days, these days trailing 100 feet of rope behind you whilst others follow would be a bad idea so we have technology to find us, however modern materials would allow a much lighter line that could be deployed only in the event of an avalanche, so just possibly there could be a reason for re inventing the avalanche cord, after all any device that will aid in recovering a victim of an avalanche must be welcome
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David G - in realtion to the cost effectiveness comment from earlier - what value do you put on your, or others, life then? Wink Puzzled snowHead

after all, when any of us spend money on any safety equipment - helmets, transceivers, probes or cord - none of us ever WANT to use them....

However, I think the semtex idea could work - but only if you could use it to 'bomb' potential slopes of the problem snow rather than yourself! rolling eyes
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davidof, DG, how often are avie victims still connected to their skis at the end of the rag-doll episode? I think you can see where I'm going with this: a 20m length of cord coiled to the skier's waist and also connected to the ski tail, say, with a frangible section next to the ski itself.
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comprex wrote:
davidof, DG, how often are avie victims still connected to their skis at the end of the rag-doll episode? I think you can see where I'm going with this: a 20m length of cord coiled to the skier's waist and also connected to the ski tail, say, with a frangible section next to the ski itself.


It is not that common as the forces are very powerful. You are more likely to find bodies with very little kit including outer layers. Imagine putting yourself in a 1100 spin cycle of your washing machine. Still if your skis (or board, more seriously) don't release you are going to have some very seriously mangled bones.

There is some misinformation in this thread. I know some other posters have mentioned some of these points but

1. avalanche cords and their more modern equivalent the avalanche ball have a serious problem. When you find the point the the cord enters the snow you may have to follow the cord many meters to the victim, by the time you dig through all that debris the victim will be DEAD, period, no ifs or buts. Cords were largely used for body recovery.

2. An avalanche, whether it is power, hard, soft slab or a slough has a better than even chance of killing you if you are completely buried. You won't be able to dig yourself out if you are largely buried because at the end of the slide path the avalanche slows rapidly. You have many thousands of tons of snow all coming to a rapid halt which puts it all under compression, it is like when you compress snow in your hands to make a snowball.

3. 90% of avalanche victims are caused by slab avalanches, 90% of slab avalanches are triggered by the victim or a member of their party.

4. You won't be able to ski or board off the slab. Forget extreme boarder action or whatever movie you have seen, if you are on the slab when it starts to move the movement will tip you off your feet. Very few skiers or boarders are good enough to ski a moving avalanche.

5. Hard slab avalanches set in motion tons of blocks of very hard, dense snow. Getting caught in one of these is like going ten rounds withe Mike Tyson. When the slab is triggered it immediately breaks up and the blocks tend to slide over one another pulling you under.

6. A swimming motion is said to help in soft snow avalanches but the last person I spoke to who was caught in one, and lived, said that he felt totally powerless the forces were so great. He figures that people who tell you to swim havn't themselves been caught.

Here is an article that may give you some more food for thought

Learning Sessons from avalanche accidents

and I will post my review of the 203/4 season to a separate thread.
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But, davidof, what about the key question: are you more likely to be found quickly via a cord, or a transceiver? Or would it be good to use both?

Your point 1 doesn't address this. If we replaced 'cords' and 'balls' with 'transceivers' what would be the difference to your argument? Surely the crux of this is getting to the locality of the buried victim in the minimum time, and an arrowed cord with distance markings would be a very effective aid wouldn't it?

One point: I imagine that most avalanche victims have sensed, to some extent, a potential risk on a slope - it's just that they've got to a point of no return. So you'd only unfurl the tape/cord at that time, to anticipate the risk. You wouldn't effectively leave it 'switched on' like a transceiver for hours on end.
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David Goldsmith wrote:
But, davidof, what about the key question: are you more likely to be found quickly via a cord, or a transceiver? Or would it be good to use both?


A visual indication is always preferable but transceivers replaced cords because you could locate the victim a lot more precisely beneath the snow. With a cord you have a lot more digging and probing and this takes time. Still I think it is a subject worth revisting, if the cord would somehow come vertically out of the avalanche debris it would be a big improvement. Keep working on those ideas, technology may well present a new and interesting solution.
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Martin Nicholas wrote:
DG, there is a device that exists at present...attach an avalanche dog to the end of it and its a near perfect solution.


Now we're getting somewhere! Cool
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