Six Tips for Surviving an Avalanche

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Plot­ting your descent into a white, untouched can­vas is a feel­ing like noth­ing else. But there’s one con­cern that keeps every respon­si­ble back­coun­try skier or snow­boarder hum­ble before the drop in: the threat of avalanche. That’s why it’s impor­tant to be aware of snow con­di­tions and what to do if trou­ble begins. Here’s a list of six tips that might just save your life if you have the mis­for­tune of expe­ri­enc­ing an avalanche. 

11. Move Side­ways
The cen­ter of an avalanche is where the snow moves the fastest, mak­ing it the most dan­ger­ous place for you to be. Whether the avalanche begins directly beneath your feet or above you, the best strat­egy to avoid get­ting caught is to move side­ways. It’s impor­tant to begin mov­ing imme­di­ately after you notice the signs of an avalanche, because the quicker you get out of the way the higher your chances of sur­vival. Just make sure you don’t move so quickly that you lose your footing!

2. Jump Ups­lope
Most avalanches that you expe­ri­ence ski­ing or snow­board­ing will be caused by, well, you. If this should hap­pen, the snow will began to fall directly beneath you. The best strat­egy to avoid get­ting caught is to quickly jump ups­lope. If you are able to move beyond the frac­ture line fast enough you might avoid get­ting caught in the slide. Be care­ful with this one. It’s unlikely that your brain will process what’s hap­pen­ing fast enough for you to react in time to jump out of the way of a start­ing avalanche.

3. Carry an Avalanche Bea­con
An avalanche bea­con (also known as an avalanche trans­ceiver) greatly increases your chances of sur­vival once you have been buried. Most bea­cons trans­mit a radio fre­quency to a receiver or another bea­con. This enables your res­cuers to pin­point exactly where you are under­neath the snow before they start dig­ging. If you are ski­ing off-piste it is absolutely essen­tial to carry an avalanche beacon.

24. Grab Some­thing
This obvious-sounding tac­tic greatly depends on the size of the avalanche, but in smaller, less pow­er­ful sit­u­a­tions, it can save your life. While major avalanches have the strength to rip trees and rocks from the ground, grab­bing onto them dur­ing a smaller slide can keep you in a sta­tic loca­tion and not get dis­ori­ented as the snow com­pacts around you.

5. Swim
Once you’ve found your­self being dragged down a moun­tain by an avalanche you should tap your surf­ing skills to avoid being buried deep. Try to stay afloat and keep your head in the open air by swim­ming as hard as you can in the direc­tion of the fast-moving snow.

6. Cre­ate an Air Pocket
When buried in snow, asphyxiation is your biggest worry. Cup­ping your mouth when you are being thrown around by the snow will cre­ate a small pocket of air for you to sur­vive on for up to 30 min­utes. Once you’ve come to a stop, dig out a hole around your face. Another strat­egy is to expand your chest by fill­ing your lungs with air so that you have more room to breath once the snow has settled.

Do you have any addi­tional tips for avalanche sur­vival? Let us know in the comments!