If you can learn how to snowboard, you can learn how to minimize your interaction with avalanches. Knowledge is power, and having the right gear can make you even safer. Get prepared so you can get shredding!
1. Check the Conditions
Before you set out, know the current risk of an avalanche in the area you’ve chosen. Avalanche.org is maintained by the US Forest Service and American Avalanche Association; it helps the public understand the danger before they venture out. Study their Avalanche Danger Scale and Avalanche Problems infographics to better understand avalanche conditions and risks.
When you arrive at your location, ask the locals about the chances of an avalanche. They may have additional advice. Heed local signage as well!
Stay humble and aware whenever you are in the mountains. An awesome view can turn into an awful experience in a few seconds. Humans are fragile, and your ego won’t protect you from the many fatal dangers that await flippant adventurers.
Route planning is important. Take the help of a local guide whenever possible, especially if you are new to the area. Move in groups of three or four, and be wary of changing snow conditions. Sunlight can melt snowpack and create a new danger on a path you’ve already taken within a single day.
2. Carry the Appropriate Gear
You should have the holy trinity of TSP (Transceiver, Shovel, and Probe) in the mountains. These three items raise avalanche survival rates by 66%.
- Avalanche Transceiver: Radio beacon usually worn around the neck. Roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes.
- Snow Probe: Collapsible stick that extends to about five feet. Used to probe the snow for buried bodies after an avalanche. If you find someone, you’ll know!
- Metal Snow Shovel: Necessary for digging out those buried bodies. Focus on getting snow away from the survivor’s head and mouth to avoid hypothermia and asphyxiation.
Don’t forget your cellphone! Emergency calls are routed to any available network, so even if your phone shows no service, try anyway.
If you are able to reach someone at 911, be prepared to supply the following information:
- Who is calling: name, phone number, location
- What happened
- Where did the accident happen
- When did the accident happen
- How many completely buried victims
- Weather in the area
- Are you wearing avalanche beacons/transceivers?
Make sure everyone in your party who is not buried turns their transceivers to ‘receive’ mode. Only buried transceivers should be giving the beacon signal. Critical time can be wasted if a searcher’s transceiver is leading everyone else away from a victim’s transceiver.
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Your Avalanche Preparedness Kit
Here is what you must carry in addition to TSP when you are on a snowy mountain vacation.
- Mobile phone and charger
- GPS device and compass
- Map of local terrain
- Slope meter
- Personal medications
- First aid kit
- Water bottles and protein bars
- Foil blankets
- Sunglasses, category 3 to 4
- Snow goggles
- Lip balm and sunscreen (SPF 30)
ski sticks, and crampons
- Climbing rope (100 feet)
- Swiss knife
- Small mirror (for showing your position)
3. Adequate Training
Most resorts will give you excellent advice about where you’ll remain safe, but if you venture out of those commercial spaces for your snowy fun, make sure at least one person in your group is trained in avalanche prediction and survival. Avalanche.org offers various courses that could mean the difference between life and death for your crew. If you like to ski, snowboard, hike, bike, snow mobile, or just be out in the snow, educating yourself thoroughly about potentially dangerous conditions is an invaluable asset.
Let’s get into some of the basics of avalanche survival right now!