What to do in An Avalanche

What to do in An AvalancheThe only sure way to survive an avalanche is to not be caught in one to begin with. Despite the best efforts of skillful back-country travelers, avalanches do happen. In order to increase your chance of survival, it's important to know what to do, should you become caught in an avalanche.


Difficulty: Moderate

What to do in an Avalanche

Things You’ll Need:
  • Avalanche beacon set on transmit
  • Shovel
  • Probe
Step 1
Attempt to ski or ride off the slab before it breaks. Try to ride off it at a 45-degree angle to avoid getting caught in the slide.
Step 2
Scream at your group to make them aware. When you first realize that you'll be caught in a slide, let the members of your group know by yelling out. While this might seem like a futile gesture, the idea is that your friends can watch you and get a better idea of your location once the avalanche stops.
Step 3
Get rid of your poles, backpack (unless it has an AvaLung or other avalanche survival device) and other gear (your beacon should be secure on your person). This will lighten your load and hopefully enable you to float better.
Step 4
Attempt to grab hold of something solid, such as a tree. If there's a tree, rock or other object near you when you first start to slide, attempt to grab hold of it to prevent becoming caught in the slide. Hold on until the slide has passed. However, if you've gained momentum, do not attempt to grab onto anything as you could become victim of blunt force trauma. According to the Utah Avalanche Center, an avalanche can gain speeds of 40 mph within just four seconds.
Step 5
Close your mouth to avoid taking in snow and use swimming motions to stay on top of the slide. The closer you are to the top, the easier it will be to rescue you. When possible, "swim" to the sides of the avalanche, where it is less powerful.
Step 6
Punch into the snow in front of your face. As the avalanche slows down and you are about to get buried, take a deep breath and punch a pocket into the snow with your fists. This will ensure that you get as much breathing room as possible.
Step 7
Punch upward. Try to get a hand through the top of the snow before it sets so that rescuers can spot you quickly.
Step 8
When buried, remain calm and don't try yelling for help unless you hear rescuers directly above. Yelling will only exhaust your air and energy and won't be effective if rescuers are not near. Likewise, don't use a lot of energy and air trying to dig, as it will be impossible if you are buried deep. If you aren't at or near the surface, you'll require outside rescue.
Step 9
Breath slowly and steadily. Remain as calm as possible and trust that your group will take care of your rescue.

Tips & Warnings

Always carry a beacon set to transmit, probe and shovel when traveling in avalanche terrain. The above steps will likely be futile if you don't have the right gear.
In addition to knowing how to react in an avalanche, you should understand the principles of avalanche safety and testing before attempting to travel in avalanche country.

Article Written By Joe Fletcher

Joe Fletcher has been a writer since 2002, starting his career in politics and legislation. He has written travel and outdoor recreation articles for a variety of print and online publications, including "Rocky Mountain Magazine" and "Bomb Snow." He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers College.

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