MRS Avalanche Course – Joe Thurgood

Firstly let me begin with who I am. My name is Joe and I am a first year patroller up at Nevis Range, having been up there for a number of years in lift ops I have finally seen the light and come over from the dark side! During the summers I have been an adventure guide for years and have become somewhat of a course and training addict, ironic really given my distain for learning up until I left school. So when the boss gave me the opportunity to head along to the MRS Avalanche Course I was most definitely keen. Set over a weekend, the course is a mixture of theory classes in the evenings and practical sessions during the days. Friday evening made a beginning with introductions and talks from both Glencoe and Lochaber MRT members on basic principles of group searches and updates with new techniques and best practices. Members from teams across Scottish MRT were in attendance from the borders to Skye, plus a couple of tag along patrollers.

The first day saw us splitting into small 6-8 person groups and going to different stations run by different instructors. These stations covered all the main principles and concentrated on perfecting our ‘core skills’ such as using our transceivers for multiple burials, effective digging techniques, flagging and marking, finishing with casualty care of both a surface and buried casualty. That whole day was extremely useful but I found the care of a buried casualty particularly handy as well as using and familiarising ourselves with current IKAR standards. In the evening there were talks about transceivers including how different pieces of equipment interfere with transmission, and from SARDA and the use and roles of dogs in avalanche search. Before this evening I was aware that certain equipment does effect the transmission range and signal of transceivers however had never paid that much notice to it. Using an oscilloscope it was demonstrated visually to us how much everything from the radios we use and mobiles to kit-kat wrappers can have an effect. Since then I have made active changes to where I carry my transceiver, radio and mobile phone to try to reduce interference from other devices.

Day two saw us back up at the CIC hut and coming together as one team. With 20-30 people in the group roles were assigned from controller to lead medic. With our roles set a large avalanche situation was created and we were put through our paces. This lasted around 2-3 hours and had everything included from multiple sites, both buried and surface casualties and secondary avalanching during the search. The live scenario really helped to consolidate our skills and finish off the weekend with a real taste of everything that can and potentially will happen.

All in all the weekend was invaluable for me. It has made me familiar with current best practice, practiced and improved my core skills (which we all need from time to time) and given me a real idea of what I need to work on as an individual. I have also been bitten by the bug, not only as the talks and demonstrations from SARDA over the weekend given me a real insight to how dogs operate in this environment but it has given me the ambition to hopefully one day become a handler myself.

As a self-confessed course nut I have been on my fair share of exceptional and mind numbing courses to boot. This weekend was definitely up in the exceptional range and would recommend anyone who gets the opportunity, do it! We all know from their reputation that mountain rescue as an organisation does an incredible job and has a wealth of experience and a proven track record. What you don’t see from the reports however is the passion and wealth of knowledge these individuals have for both the environment they work in and the job that is asked of them. Any question you can ask – there is one of them who has been there, seen it and dealt with it.

Written by Joe Thurgood, Ski Patroller, Nevis Range.

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