It’s the perfect time for winter sports! Whether it be snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering, snowmobiling, or other sport, the snow is calling to you. It can be relaxing and peaceful to spend some time in a world blanketed by snow. Everything looks clean and pure. However, the snow can hold hidden dangers. Avalanches happen quickly. Knowing what to do before you even step foot on the slopes is essential to survival.
Before You Go:
- Take an avalanche course – If you’re headed to avalanche area, check for local courses. There are signs to watch for to help avoid an avalanche in the first place. Things such as temperature, sun, slope angles, etc. have an effect on snow packs. Taking a course will help you to avoid going into an unnecessarily dangerous area.
- Go with a buddy – Never go alone. Your survival rate greatly increases with a friend. There is someone to go for help or to even dig you out.
- Have the right gear – Wear an avalanche beacon and bring the right gear. Beacons should be set to transmit before you go. You may not be able to turn it on or adjust settings if you are caught in the avalanche. Shovels and probes should be carried by each individual person.
During an Avalanche:
- Jump up slope – Considering most avalanches are triggered by the victim, try to jump up slope as soon as it starts. It is possible you could jump across the break in the snow and avoid being caught in the rushing snow.
- Call out for help – Call out to your buddy to get their attention, but don’t continue to yell. You need to focus on staying above the snow and should not waste precious air once the snow settles.
- Move off to the side – The center contains the most snow, as well as the snow moves the fastest. Do your best to get out of the way. If you are skiing or snowboarding, move downhill for a short distance to build up speed before shooting to the side.
- Ditch the gear – Obviously, don’t ditch your transmitting beacon, but drop heavy packs and other unnecessary gear. It could leave a trail to you as well as makes you lighter.
- Hold on to something – If you get a chance to grab onto a tree, do it. Large avalanches can rip the trees right out of the ground, but the smaller ones won’t. You may not be able to hold on to it very long, but you’ll be slowed down and may not travel as far or deep into the snow.
- Swim uphill – Turn on your back and swim uphill using the backstroke. Try to keep your face above the snow. If you can, swim towards the side where the snow is slower.
After the Snow Settles:
- Cover your face with your arm – As the snow settles, it becomes as hard as concrete. By using your arm to cover your face, you can create an air pocket.
- Expand your chest – Expand your chest as large as possible. It will be easier to breathe and remain calm if you can expand your chest completely.
- Reach an arm up – If possible, reach your arm up towards the sky. It’s easier to find you if they can see some part of you sticking out of the snow.
- Spit – Not sure which way is up? Spit! Gravity will pull your spit down, so if you’re close to the surface, dig the opposite direction.
- Remain calm – Easier said than done… but do your best to remain calm. As you get nervous and agitated, your breathing increases and uses up available oxygen much quicker.
Don’t take your eyes off the victim – Watch where they end up and wait for the snow to stop before rushing in to help.
Watch for surface clues – If you aren’t exactly sure where they ended up, look for surface clues such as gloves or other gear that drifted towards the surface. They usually end up close to the victim.
Use probes and beacons – Pinpoint exact location with your gear so as not to dig in the wrong spot.
Dig – Once you’ve located the victim, dig like crazy. The highest rate of survival is within the first 15 minutes. Dig from below towards where you probed, not only will it be easier to get them out, but you’ll be able to get oxygen to them quicker.
Now that you know basics of avalanche safety, go out and enjoy the snow, but always be prepared before you go.