The RECCO Story | How A Tragic Accident Changed The Whole Snow Rescue Industry

Michael Muchacho | | AvalancheAvalanche

When I was a kid I would always wonder what that small, almost unnoticeable object hiding between the layers of my ski jacket was. I could also notice it was in my parents’ ski jacket, in some gloves and even helmets and boots. All I could tell at that time was the name on it, RECCO®. I never really understood what it was until I was old enough to Google it.

The RECCO system is a technology created to help the search and rescue of people buried under snow or lost in the outdoors. When wearing a RECCO device you become searchable by rescue professionals worldwide.

The technology consists of two parts, a detector, and a reflector. The RECCO detector emits a directional radar signal. When the signal hits the RECCO reflector it is echoed back to the detector and points the rescuer in the direction of the victim. The closer the detector gets to the reflector, the stronger the returned signal will be, allowing to eventually locate the reflector.

recco detector reflector avalanche system
A graphic image of how the detector and reflector technology works. The detector emits a signal that is reflected by RECCO devices. Image: Beingmagazine.com

The documentary shows how the whole idea of RECCO and avalanche rescue devices came up in the year 1973 after an avalanche tragedy in Åre, Sweden. At that time there wasn’t any technology that could help find buried victims, only avalanche dogs, and probes.

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Magnus Granhed, who was involved in the search and rescue after such incident, was the mentor and creator of RECCO, and his idea has now built an entire snowsports rescue set of tools and procedures.

More than 30 years ago the first RECCO® detector weighted around 16kg, today the detector is a handy 1kg device. The reflector has been reduced to the size where you cannot even notice that it is in your mountain equipment.

recco avalanche detector buried snow rescue security beacon
The RECCO detector evolution. Image: RECCO

While RECCO is an extremely useful technology, it does not, by any means, replace an avalanche Transceiver. When involved in an avalanche or burial related situation, search and rescue speed is critical, and it should be conducted as soon as the accident happens. An avalanche beacon is a key tool in that situation.

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Avalanche safety equipment will not protect you from avalanches. Wherever you are skiing, having the right equipment and knowing how to use it can significantly increase your chances of survival should an avalanche occur. When accessing avalanche terrain it is recommended that you carry and are confident using the following rescue equipment: Avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel, RECCO reflectors, airbags, helmet, and a first aid kit.

recco gear avalanche essential gear snow burial
The essential gear for snowsports rescue and survival. Image: RECCO

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