Snowboarding, skiing, or mountaineering is fun but it has its own share of risks. One of the ever-present risks is the possibility of encountering an avalanche or being buried under snow when out camping. One of the many rescue equipment you can use to rescue victims is an avalanche probe, also known as a snow probe.

What is an Avalanche Probe?

An avalanche probe is a simple rod rescuers use to probe or poke through snow and avalanche debris when searching for buried victims.

It resembles a collapsible tent pole and is an essential piece of background skiing, snowboarding, and mountaineering. After you find someone during the probing, you can leave the probe in place so that other rescuers can know there is someone there.

How to Prepare an Avalanche Probe for Use

Before we look into the different probing techniques, you will first have to learn how to draw and secure your probe.

Most probes, be it carbon fiber or aluminum probes, are collapsible and use different types of draw mechanisms to extend their length to up to 3 meters. Consult your probe’s manual before heading out to the backcountry and practice a bit so that you know how to do it beforehand.

How to Use an Avalanche Probe

Even though the concept of avalanche probing is simple, you need a couple of search techniques to make your search as effective as possible.

To make your probing more efficient, look for surface clues like equipment debris or the last seen point of the lost person. Better still, if the person was wearing a locator beacon, start where the signal is the strongest.

Basic Probing on a Slope

  • When probing on a steep slope, always ensure that you are inserting the probe perpendicular to the snow.
  • Expand from your initial probe point in a spiral manner ensuring that the distance between the spiral arms is around 30 centimeters
  • If you hit something you believe is a body (resistant than the snow but more squishy than rocks and the ground) leave the probe in place to mark the location
  • Call in the shoveling team to dig up or if you are alone, grab a shovel and start digging
  • Remember to take note of the probe’s depth. If the probe indicates a meter or less, start digging immediately behind the probe
  • If it’s deeper than a meter, use multiples of 1.5 to determine how far from the probe you should start digging. For instance, 2 meters deep means 2 x 1.5 = 3M. Star digging at a radius of 3 meters from the probe
  • Remember that since you don’t what part of the body you hit, you might have to narrow down to the probe point before finding the person


Pro Tip: Don’t always look for the consistency of a human body under warm skiing clothes. Sometimes, you might hit the helmet, snow goggles or boots. Also, factor in the depth of the other probes you made. Anything closer to the top than an initial probe could indicate that you found something.

Bottom Line

Finding your friend or a victim fast is crucial after an avalanche. This can only happen if you have the right probes and know how to use them. You also need extra security equipment like locator beacons to help zero the search down to around 3 meters.

Buy a locator beacon or a hiking watch with GPS & locator beacon for your loved ones, and yourself, before heading out. Also, ensure that everyone packs some avalanche probes and shovels for instant rescue work. In addition to this, no matter how much fun you are having, maintain situational awareness and keep a mental note of where everyone is at all times.

This will give you a rough last seen position for most people in case of anything.