The world's first permanent artificial avalanche transceiver training park was officially opened this morning by Shona Robison MSP, Scottish Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport. The all-year-round facility is designed to help develop the search and rescue skills of winter walkers, climbers and ski mountaineers.
It is located at sportscotland's National Outdoor Training Centre Glenmore Lodge, near Aviemore. Constructed at a cost of approximately £10,000, the 500 square metre facility provides an artificial but realistic and easily accessible place for would-be rescuers to simulate various avalanche transceiver search scenarios at any time of year and whatever the weather conditions. It is quite a step up from the former arrangement at Glenmore Lodge, where transceiver trainees had to just run around the woods looking for 'casualties' hidden behind trees.
Winter mountaineering and ski mountaineering are increasingly popular activities in Scotland, and most seasons see avalanche-related incidents. Last year alone the sportscotland Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) recorded over 329,000 people accessing its online avalanche reports over a four month operational period across five key Scottish mountain areas.
An individual's chances of survival diminish rapidly the longer they are buried in an avalanche. Companion rescue therefore forms the focus of a successful recovery. Ski mountaineers in particular are increasingly carrying transceivers which can both transmit and receive a signal on a common frequency. In this way any members of the party not avalanched become rescuers; but only if they know how to use the kit.
A keen skier and hillwalker herself, Shona Robison, said:
'Snowsports generate £30 million each year for Scotland's economy, supporting over 600 jobs, and in 2011 – the Year of Active [sic] – we are keen to see people taking advantage of some of the fantastic terrain available in Scotland's mountains to enjoy winter sports.'
'But we can't lose sight of the fact that lives are lost on Scotland's mountains each year. The opening of the avalanche training park – the first of its kind anywhere in the world – is a timely reminder to those heading out into the great outdoors in winter to plan ahead, check the weather and ensure they have the correct safety equipment and knowledge.'
'The training park is a fantastic achievement and offering year-round training in dealing with avalanche scenarios, builds on Glenmore Lodge's reputation at the forefront in providing world-class training facilities.'
Designed by US company Back Country Access (BCA), world leaders in avalanche research and product development, the training park involves four avalanche transceivers (simulating victims) being buried under the deep layer of woodchip that covers the park. Every beacon is connected underground to a central control box where one or more units can be turned on to emit a signal that is picked up by the avalanche transceivers worn by trainee rescuers.
Almost all avalanche training facilities operating around the world - including a transceiver park at Glen Coe ski centre - currently rely on snow to hide the transceivers, restricting their use to snowy seasons. BCA have provided £4,000 of hardware (including transceivers and probes) as part of their ongoing support of Glenmore Lodge.
Bruce Edgerly, Vice President of BCA commented:
'The avalanche training park we have helped put in place at Glenmore Lodge is one of the finest anywhere in the world. Well constructed, designed and easy to use, the innovative approach of using an artificial surface is one likely to be recreated in a number of locations around the world.'
Bob Kinnaird, Principal of Glenmore Lodge, explained:
'In addition to mountain rescue personnel, an increasing number of skiers, winter walkers and mountaineers carry avalanche transceivers to increase their chance of rescue in the event of an avalanche. However, such equipment is only helpful if those involved in a rescue operation know how to detect the signals and how to best plan a rescue.'
'As Scotland's National Outdoor Training Centre, Glenmore Lodge is keen to continually develop our facilities to support the outdoor sector. In partnership with BCA, the development of the year-round transceiver training park is an example of an innovative approach to offer accessible and appropriate training opportunities that help outdoor enthusiasts develop their knowledge and skills to safely enjoy our mountains in winter.'
Ian Sherrington, Chief Instructor at the Lodge, added:
'This transceiver park provides an excellent training facility for anyone venturing into avalanche terrain. Your chance of surviving an avalanche burial is directly linked to the speed of your rescue. Therefore, training in the use of transceivers, probes and shovels in this environment will ultimately help to save lives. Moreover, this park will not only benefit a large number of the 750+ winter course participants we host at Glenmore Lodge, but mountain rescue teams, ski clubs and individuals who simply wish to hone their skills.'
'Scotland's mountains in winter present a far more serious environment than summer and should be treated as such. Every piece of clothing and equipment carried or worn should be carefully considered and more importantly winter hill walkers must know how to use it. We highly recommend learning from an experienced mountaineer, joining a club or better still completing one of the wide range of winter skills courses available.'