Using Drones To Save Skiers & Snowboarders


Either you love the winter, or hate it and can’t wait to see the green grass popping back up under the snow. For those enamored with the snow, winter sports like skiing are a must. However, each year many winter sports enthusiasts fail to realize some of the dangers involved. According to research gathered by the National Geographic, upwards of 150 people are killed from avalanches each year. Most of these victims being skiers, snowboarders, or snowmobilers trapped by the avalanche.

It is not always the impact of an avalanche that will claim a life, but rather how it can trap and make getting to a victim in time almost impossible. In some situations, hypothermia can start to break down a body in as little as 30 minutes. Worse yet is how the weight of the snow, even if it isn’t very deep, can immobilize and suffocate you in as little as 15 minutes. Getting rescuers to an avalanche site in that short amount of time is difficult.

It is therefore highly recommended that anyone sporting in a possible avalanche zone to wear a special transceiver. An avalanche transceiver is a small radio device worn under a jacket that when activated will send out a low power pulse signal. The signal being transmitted by the device can then be tracked by a drone that can quickly find a victim.

When it comes to rescuing someone trapped in the snow, time is of the essence. A drone is not only the fasted way to locate a person, but also the safest. A drone can find it’s way to a victim that is often in an inaccessible location. This not only saves times, but minimizes the risk put on the rescue team. The drones can then be used to help clear a path for a rescue mission to get through. A drone can even carry supplies that could be invaluable to both the rescuers and the victim. Drones are also being used to help remotely prevent avalanches from happening by safely detonating explosives in danger zones, causing a preemptive avalanche.

The MRS, Mountain Rescue Service of Czech, has been successfully using drones by Robodrone Kingfisher for just such situations. The drones are equipped with both an avalanche transceiver detection system and a camera. According to Marek Frys, a MRS drone operator, there are still issues to be worked out. Yes, the drones work well in a situation when a trapped individual has an avalanche transceiver, but what of those without one?

Jean-Yves Barman, chief executive of software developer SCS Smart City Swiss, says they are working on new software to tackle that issue. They are currently designing drones with multi-spectral and thermal imaging capabilities that could track gasses released by people trapped under snow, debris, or even mud.

These drones are tackling the most crucial aspect of snow rescue missions. Getting to the trapped individuals as quick as possible. But the bottom line is, these drones are not able to physically dig a person out of the snow. That is a job reliant on humans, and dogs. But without the aid of the drones, rescue success rate would not have been as high as they have been recently.


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