Communication when backcountry touring has evolved from the days of holler and holler louder. Many ski with two-way radios to keep communication tight within or between groups. Still, some carry personal GPS satellite communicators, like a Garmin inReach. What do the data say regarding 10,000 inReach SOS triggers?
First, a nod to Adventure Journal, where I first read about the inReach data. (If you don’t read Adventure Journal, it’s a lovely quarterly print magazine.)
Garmin released data last week having to do with 10,000 inReach SOS triggerings. An inReach is a personal GPS satellite communicator sold by Garmin. They come in a few flavors; an inReach Mini 2, and inReach Messenger. In brief, these tools allow a user to press an SOS button in a full-blown emergency or connect with others using preset or unique messages as long as it can connect with a satellite.
I use an older inReach Mini. I have also purchased the Mini 2 for the older child. They can be handy devices. That said, I know plenty of backcountry skiers/riders who forgo the technology.
The SOS Trigger Data
The global map shows red dots that indicate SOS calls/GPS locations. Garmin writes, “It is interesting to note how conglomerations of incidents indicate mountainous regions, such as the Pacific Crest Trail in the western United States, the Alps in Europe and nearly all of New Zealand.” That is interesting; but not surprising. Garmin is global in scope, and the Iridium satellite constellation covers the planet.
The precise numbers are not available from Garmin. Still, this is clear: the cluster of SOS calls is denser in the Western portion of North America, from the Baja Peninsula to Central Alaska.
Under the heading “Who are people triggering an SOS for?” We see an interesting finding; roughly 20% (an estimate based on the pie graph) of SOS calls are for unknown third-party individuals.
As far as why people are triggering an SOS? According to Garmin, injuries and medical issues constitute slightly more than half of all SOS triggers.
As a backcountry skiing/riding site, some of you may ask what the proportion of skiers/snowboarders triggering an SOS is. Skiers and snowboarders are a piece of the pie, but a sliver of the whole (5%, maybe?). Garmin says hiking/backpacking is 39% of the total. We also do not know how many SOS triggers are from skiers/snowboarders on-piste or off-piste. Climbing/mountaineering is a different category and a larger segment of the pie.
While most of the WildSnow backcountry skiing blog posts are best attributed to a single author, some work well as done by the group.
Data is unavoidably lacking an important detail. At least in the Alps, most people don’t need a satelite SOS device, a phone works just as well. Better actually. As for activity, it would still heavily lean towards hiking.
When I’m climbing/ski touring in the alps I’ve need to call for a helicopter twice but both time there was no reception (once for me and once for 3rd party) and now I have an inreach I just activate the contract when I need it. The Alps has good phone coverage but there are some big dead spots.
I’d like to see a deep dive into the new iPhone 14’s SOS function compared to Garmin… information elsewhere is sparse.
Hey Ryan, that’s a good question. I’m on an old iPhone SE, so I’m no help for the time being.