Being stuck in an avalanche can cause severe consequences and be deadly. It is essential to know how to stay safe when on the slopes.
What is an avalanche?
An avalanche is a rapid flow of snow down a mountain, hill or any steep incline. They can trigger from below or from a distance.
Avalanches can happen anytime there is snow, but the risk is increased at certain times of the year.
They often occur when fresh new snow falls on top of an already compacted snow base. That newer snow becomes unstable, triggering an avalanche.
Heavy snow and strong winds can also result in natural avalanches, but the National Weather Service says that manmade avalanches are much more common.
"In 90 percent of avalanche incidents, the snow slides are triggered by the victim or someone in the victim's party," the NWS says. "Avalanches kill more than 150 people worldwide each year."
The NWS issues Avalanche Alerts and sends forecast information to regional avalanche forecast centers to help keep people safe.
How to survive an avalanche
While avalanches are sudden, there are warning signs to help you stay safe. Here are tips from the NWS on how to stay safe while you are on the slopes.
- Know the three factors required for an avalanche:
- Slope - Avalanche generally occur on slopes steeper than 30 degrees.
- Snowpack - Recent avalanches, shooting cracks, and "whumping" are signs of unstable snow.
- Trigger - Sometimes, it doesn't take much to tip the balance; people, new snow, and wind are common triggers.
- Determine if you are on or below slopes that can avalanche.
- Find out if the snow is stable.
- Get the Advisory: Refer to your local avalanche center for current snowpack conditions!
- Get the gear and learn how to use it! Have these three avalanche safety essentials in your pack:
- Transceiver: so you can be found if covered by the snow.
- Shovel: so you can dig out your partner.
- Probe: so you can locate someone who the snow has covered.
- Avalanche survival rates plummet after about 15 minutes for victims who do not die from trauma.
- Saving your partner is up to you! Practicing realistic scenarios beforehand is essential.