Avalanche Probe- When choosing a probe be sure to do your research and listen to the varying opinions. The options you have are construction materials (typically aluminum and carbon), weight, length (aprox. 200-320cm), and ease of use(deployment style). All of these options have their pros and cons and it’s up to the end user to weight them out and make their decision. Many find the extra weight for a longer probe negligible. Although victims seldom survive a deep burial I would rather not look back wishing I had a longer probe.
Once you have your probe there are a couple things you need to do. The first is to find an accessible place to store it. The last thing you want is to be tired, stressed out, fumbling with multiple zippers to obtain your safety gear. Many probes are sold with a storage sleeve or pouch. I would recommend not using this when you are in the backcountry. This sleeve creates an additional step for the user before they are able to perform a rescue. Once you have your gear stowed in a readily available location practice deploying it. How quick can you get it out? Develop a routine and stick with that routine.
You’re on the hill and your partner is caught in a slide. If another partner is zeroing in on the beacon signal of the victim, utilize this time to assemble your shovel and probe. This will reduce potential lag time in excavating your partner. If you are doing a solo rescue than assemble your gear once you pinpoint the beacon signal within the final 3-4 meters. Begin probing perpendicular to the hill (not straight down), at the location of the strongest/nearest beacon signal. You will be looking for a soft feeling within the snowpack. Practice by burying a backpack and getting accustom to the feeling. If there is no probe strike move out 10-12 inches and probe again. The probe pattern should work its way out in a spiral pattern around the initial probe mark. The natural reaction is to quickly begin digging once the beacon has it’s best/closest signal. It’s far better to take a small amount of time probing and pinpointing the location than taking extra time digging a much larger hole. Once you strike the victim leave the probe in its location and make an observation of the probe’s penetration depth into the snowpack. There should be measurement markings on your probe.
BCA is a great resource for backcountry education. Here is a flyer and video regarding probing.