Avoiding an Avalanche

Avoiding an Avalanche
The majority of avalanches occur in the backcountry on slopes with an angle of 30 degrees or more, but they can happen on slopes with less of an angle. People cause most avalanches. When a heavy layer of snow sits on top of a weak layer of snow on a slope, an avalanche is possible because the weak layer underneath cannot support the heavy top layer. An avalanche is more likely to happen on a concave slope than on a uniform slope. Contrary to popular belief, avalanches are not caused by loud noises. So scream all you want, but make sure to follow these tips to avoid an avalanche.


Difficulty: Moderate

Step 1
Check avalanche reports for the area before you go on your trip so you'll know which areas to avoid.
Step 2
Check weather reports for rain and snow before your trip. Rain melts the snow, making an avalanche more likely. Most avalanches occur within the first 24 hours after snow.
Step 3
Look for prior avalanche activity. A slope that has experienced a recent avalanche is prone to having another avalanche. If the snow on a slope is rough and jagged, it has not experienced a recent avalanche. A slope that has experienced a recent avalanche will have smooth snow.
Step 4
Observe the ground you are walking on. If a large area of snow caves in around your feet, gently track to another area. The snow caving in is a sign of heavy snow on top of weak snow.
Step 5
Walk dangerous areas one person at a time to minimize the weight on the snow.
Step 6
Avoid slopes that show evidence of sun balls. Sun balls occur during warmer weather. The warm weather melts portions of the snow, which rolls down and collects down the slope. Sun ball activity, current or prior, weakens the snow on the slope making it more prone to avalanche.

Tips & Warnings

Before your trip, always alert others of where you are going and how long you intend to be gone, so they know when and where to look for you if you do not return. When on an outdoor adventure, it is best to go in groups for safety. If you encounter an avalanche, try to get out of the way. If you cannot get out of the way, try to grab hold of a nearby tree. Cover your head and your mouth to help make an air space. Close your mouth to keep snow out. Avoid panicking to conserve oxygen. Release a little saliva from your mouth to determine which way is up and which is down. Use a swimming motion with your hands to clear space around you. Try to stick your hand, ski pole or other object through the snow. If you cannot escape, wait for someone to rescue you.
Always be aware of your surroundings. Look around and evaluate the surrounding area before walking, skiing or climbing it.

Article Written By Rose Kivi

Rose Kivi has been a writer for more than 10 years. She has a background in the nursing field, wildlife rehabilitation and habitat conservation. Kivi has authored educational textbooks, patient health care pamphlets, animal husbandry guides, outdoor survival manuals and was a contributing writer for two books in the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Series.

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