Is Recco the right safety partner for the Freeride World Tour?

By Arjen on 14 February 2017 · 0

The Freeride World Tour is going strong since 2008. It's a bit like the 'Champions League' of freeriding. The best skiers and snowboarders come together and compete in five events to determine who can call himself (or herself of course) the freeride world champion. Let's just forget that there are many great riders out there who have no interest or time at all to compete and choose to create videos for their sponsor. That is a choice, of course, and it does not detract from the Freeride World Tour itself, because this season there will be great skiers and snowboarders competing again, such as Jeremie Heitz, Logan Pehota, Drew Tabke and Reine Barkered. But unfortunately, the Freeride World Tour really starts to look a bit like the 'Champions League' and money determines the direction. And that has everything to do with the role of Recco.

What is Recco exactly?

Recco's been a partner of the Freeride World Tour for a while. For those who do not know what Recco is: it's a reflector which is often sewn into clothing. The mountain rescues of around 600 ski areas have a device that allows them to find the reflector. Among mountain guides and other skiers and snowboarders who consider themselves freeriders, the Recco system allows you to retrieve a dead body under the snow. Since you only have up to 15 minutes to save your buddy when he's burried by an avalanche, Recco simply is not the tool you want to use, because you don't have the rescue device. You really need an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe. That's exactly what Recco is saying in the video below: it is not a substitute for an avalanche beacon or companion rescue. That's clear, right?

There are definitely situations where Recco is really useful. With rescue operations at sea. Or when someone is missing in a forest. The system enables to search within a huge area in a short period of time. But should it be targeted as an avalanche rescue system?

FWT partners with Recco

Check out the video above. Not the Recco video, but the video where you can see the CEO of the Freeride World Tour telling about their partnership with Recco. The question still is if Recco is the right partner for the Freeride World Tour. Check out some quotes from his monologue below.

  • "For Freeride World Tour safety has been priority number one, since day one - 22 years ago"

That's excellent, since safety and risk management are important for every (professional) freerider.

  • "The strength of the Recco System is that it will always work"

Right. That's correct. Because Recco is 'only' reflecting. Just a pity that the device that really makes it work is not around when your buddy is burried by an avalanche. Except when you're a ski patroller maybe. That's the main 'problem' of Recco. There are a lot of situations where it's definitely brings in added value, but in a avalanche accident in the backcountry where you only have a short period of time to perform the rescue.

  • "An avalanche transceiver is an equipment you must have which works most of the time"

Ah okay, so Recco always works and an avalanche beacon works most of the time. How come?

  • "But there are times when it's not switched on or the batteries are too low or there is an interference"

This is questionable. How did you check the safety of your competing riders before? Did you never perform a simple checking of the beacons before they were riding that face? And the batteries are low? Every avalanche beacon keeps on sending its signal on 457 kHz for hours even when the batteries are almost dead. That should be enough for an event with ski patrol and helicopters etc watching the atlethes. So that argument is not really valid either. Interference could be one, for avalanche beacons could perform not that well when close to phones, magnets, etc.

  • "When riders respond that they don't need a Recco reflector because they already have an avalanche transceiver, we now respond saying: We also thought so a couple of years ago. But speaking with people and knowing the product we know that this second layer of safety brought by the Recco device is absolutely key."

Well, I'm kinda curious who they talked to. We spoke with various mountain guides and with a lot of riders about this who basicly comment like this: 'Recco is great way of finding a dead body in an avalanche'. Again, there are a lot of situations where it's definitely brings in added value, but in a avalanche accident in the backcountry where you only have a short period of time to perform the rescue. And that's probably the reason Mr. Woods says it's the second layer of safety and not the first one.

  • "It's not one or the other. It's both, to optimize your chances"

Fortunately, the end of the video is positive. Of course it is not the one or the other. It's just one, namely an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe. And if you want to carry a Recco, well, that's no problem at all, but simply don't rely on it for your rescue in case you're caught in an avalanche.

Don't go off-piste without avalanche beacon, shovel and probe
Don't go off-piste without avalanche beacon, shovel and probe

Is Recco the right partner for the FWT?

The text on the website of the Freeride World Tour is clear:

The FWT requires that all competitors in every competition carry an avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe, and know how to use them; as well as a helmet and a certified and separate back protection.

New for the 2017 season, FWT is teaming up with RECCO search and rescue to provide snow safety products for every competitor. Every rider who does not have a RECCO device already will get a maximum of one device at the first event that he/she competes in, which will complete the mandatory equipment for every rider. All equipment, verified on competition day prior to events, is mandatory in order to compete.

An avalanche airbag is only mandatory on the Freeride World Tour, not on FWQ or FJT, unless specified otherwise. Harnesses are only mandatory if the organizers ask for it but be prepared to have one!

The equipment along with a transceiver check and a RECCO reflector check will be done prior to the competition. Any rider missing any of the mandatory equipment will not be allowed to start and will get a DNS (did not start).

This partnership with the Freeride World Tour is a bit confusing. Perhaps Recco is a good extra layer of safety on contest day with the mountain rescue standby and helicopters in the air, but that's not how it is in real life. By indicating that Recco always works and an avalanche beacon is not always working, riders who don't have much experience or knowledge might think that they're doing the right thing. "There's a Recco is in my jacket, I can ride off-piste". So the question remains: Is Recco the right safety partner for the Freeride World Tour?


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