How to survive an avalanche

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Things go wrong and sometimes despite precautions people still get caught in avalanches when venturing into the snowy backcountry. That’s why backcountry travelers should always carry the right gear AND know to use it.

The following information is from the Forest Service National Avalanche Center:

Always carry a beacon, a shovel, and a probe pole. Seriously consider wearing a helmet (nearly 30% of avalanche fatalities are caused by trauma) and wearing an Avalung (you can breathe up to one hour if you are completely buried) or Air Bag System (ABS tend to keep victims on or very near the surface).

Wear releasable bindings…if your skis or snowboard stay on in an avalanche its just like jumping into a lake with them on…you are much more apt to get pulled to the bottom.

If your partner gets buried, you don’t have time to go for help! You must save your partner…if you go for help it will be too late!

  • Yell to alert your partners and other people that may be in the area. Watch the victim! Memorize the last seen point.
  • Make sure it is safe to search. Don’t become a victim yourself.
  • Designate a leader and quickly develop a search plan.
  • Look for surface clues like gloves, boots, and other equipment.
  • Conduct a beacon search. Get close and probe BEFORE you dig.

Many buried victims die of asphyxiation within 15 minutes unless they are wearing an Avalung.

Your partner’s survival is in your hands.

It is critical to attend an avalanche class to learn how to carry out a fast and effective rescue.

And then to frequently practice using your beacon and practice carrying out a rescue before you’re faced with the real thing!

Rescues can be chaotic scary affairs; it may be getting dark, it may be cold, it may be stormy.  Be prepared.  Be ready! Know what you are doing!

If you are caught…

  • Try to ski or board off the slab by maintaining momentum and angling to edge of slide like the very lucky people in video above do.
  • Simultaneously, if you are wearing an Avalung, get it in your mouth
  • If you get knocked down and you have an Air Bag System deploy it.
  • Discard poles (never ski in the backcountry with your pole straps on).
  • Hopefully you have releasable bindings and your skis or board come off; if they do, roll on to your back with your feet downhill. Swim hard up stream to try to get to the rear of the avalanche.
  • Dig into the bed surface to slow you down and let as much debris as possible go past.
  • Grab a tree if you can
  • FIGHT!
  • As the avalanche slows, try to thrust your hand or some part of your body above the surface and then stick a hand in front of your face to make an air space around your mouth.
  • If completely buried, try to remain calm -hopefully your partners have practiced rescue techniques and they will quickly find you.

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