How vital is this skill to the patroller?
In February this year Nevis Range Chief Patroller Jeff Starkey invited me to co-deliver a winter rigging course for a range of experienced Scottish based ski patrollers. The course was 1.5 days, we had 8 patrollers attending.
So why bother and how vital is this skill to the patroller?
Paying guests expect skilled rescuers to come to their aid, however not all in need of rescue are paying guests… but that’s never stopped ski patrol from carrying out a rescue to those in need within and out-with the boundaries of ski resorts. The huge support resorts and ski patrol provide to, for example; Scottish mountain rescue teams, is massively evidential, its simple patrollers make a difference to saving lives.
Steep ground exists within resorts boundaries too, so what is a steep slope? When do you go from deploying a back rope to securing a rescue load off snow anchors? Lots of logical questions from the course participants which only made this course more interactive with many real life examples of ski patrol rescues on steep terrain.
Winter rigging made easy! No, it’s a complex subject that needs an incremental approach to unwrapping its key components and when understood – like any new skill – they need regular practice to keep up to date.
Winter rigging takes a system evidenced based approach drawing from credible research along with established methods and techniques which are well proven in their application, so how do we keep the risk to rescuer and casualty to a minimum? By using a rigging principle approach.
Without training, more questions, less confidence to act. With training, more topic led questions, more confidence to act. This approach is well tested and works, competence is developed through guided training but more importantly lots of practice. Knowing and accepting why you need the training in the first instance, is a great start.
Here are some of the topics covered on the course.
- Snow density – with over 5000 types of snow crystals, that’s a lot… research has clearly shown how snow anchors perform with weaker to stronger snow density. The rigger needs a fast and easy method of field testing snow hardness this guides the selection of anchor equipment and placement of the anchor, which guides the rigger to expected anchor strengths.
- Anchor types – rocks, fence post, skis, deadman plates, ice axe, stakes, bollards, human… knowing how to position anchors correctly and understanding the strength or limitations of the anchor features is high on the riggers learning band width.
- Rigging of multiple anchors – how do you bring it all together, what’s the plan for rigging single to multiple anchors, stitching the anchors together to create safe vector, equalisation and independence, knowing why that is all imperative to building a safe anchor.
- Choosing belay systems, a belay device could be a friction knot, an ID, a Rescue 8 or other. To get it right depends on how icy your rope might be particularly when you lowering and raising. Are you using single or double rope techniques? Having limited knowledge, equipment and skill heightens the risk to patroller and casualty.
- Determining rescue load weight and learning how not to overkill the thinking of (SSSF) static safe system factors. Get all of that right and the rigging system is almost ready to go. To make it all run smoothly, a sound knowledge of technical rigging roles and communications is key to any rescue operation.
The key features of our training course was to learn rigging systems that are simple, standardise systems and maximize training time, lower risk and improve success. We introduced concepts and techniques in the classroom, then moved onto the mountain where we practiced: anchors, belays and lowering for access. These solutions and practices have been validated with testing, extensive training, real life rescues and proven to be vital in the vast majority of situations encountered. We also provided useful structure for scene management and communications that are used in all rescues as well as tools to help with preparing for rescues and making the most of on-going internal training. Rescuing on steep terrain requires specific skills and expertise.
Mastering the skills and knowledge you need for winter rigging will result in protection for the guest, patroller and resort.
Article written by Stuart Johnston MIC
Stuart teaches specialist rescue rigging courses to a wide range of emergency services. If you would like to arrange a course at your Ski Resort, please contact the BASP office for details.