The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said avalanches kill 25-30 people and injure many more in the Untied States each winter.
Red Flags for avalanche danger
If you are planning on heading into the backcountry, it is important to recognize red flags that could lead to an avalanche.
The CAIC said these are the things you should look out for:
- Recent avalanches: If there have been recent avalanches in an area you’re in, it’s a sign that snowpack is unstable.
- Signs of unstable snow: Cracking or collapsing, drum-like sounds
- Heavy snowfall or rain: Significant snowfall or rain can make snowpack unstable for several days
- Wind-blown snow: Wind is a significant factor in avalanche activity. Avoid cornices and drifts on steep slopes.
- Rapid melting: Rain, strong solar radiation, or extended periods of above-freezing temperatures can cause the avalanche danger to rise.
- Persistent slabs: Persistent slabs may be triggered weeks after a storm. Check the avalanche forecast to find out if they exist in your area.
Preparing for an avalanche
The CAIC said you should always carry an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel in the backcountry and know how to use each tool. You should also consider riding with an inflatable avalanche airbag pack.
- Transceiver: CAIC said an avalanche transceiver transmits and receives a signal that can be used to locate someone buried under snow.
- Probe: While transceivers can get you close, CAIC said an avalanche probe is necessary to pinpoint a victim’s exact location.
- Shovel: CAIC said the average avalanche burial is four feet and avalanche debris can be hard and dense, so a sturdy avalanche shovel is essential.
- Airbag pack: An inflatable avalanche airbag pack, when properly deployed, can increase your chances of staying near the surface of an avalanche, the CAIC said.
It is also important to leave a detailed itinerary with a responsible person at home. This person should understand that it is their role to immediately report any known emergent circumstances, serious injuries or medical episodes, or an extended failure to communicate after the planned timeline of your trip.