The search dogs of Northumberland's mountain rescue teams were training last week practising their avalanche rescue capabilities.
There are several areas in Northumberland where avalanche is a serious risk when there are significant accumulations of snow on the hills. The Northumberland National Mountain Rescue Team and North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Team last responded to an avalanche in February 1988, in the Bizzle area of The Cheviot, which resulted in two fatalities and two people injured.
Avalanche survivors are often buried, requiring others to dig them out. Time is critical to avoid running out of air and dogs play a vital part in finding people quickly. The dogs find people through the scent that all of us give off and, as such, avalanche training requires real people to be buried in the snow.
A member of the Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team was buried last week and filmed Ben, one of the search dogs with the North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Team, during an under snow rescue.
When the hills of Northumberland are in full winter conditions, walkers should be aware of the additional risks that need to be managed. This includes route choice to avoid slopes with unstable snow conditions – 90 per cent of avalanche victims are the trigger leading to the slide. If such slopes are unavoidable then transceivers, probes and shovels should be carried by all in the group to allow self-rescue. Furthermore, ice axes and crampons should be carried.