Avalanche danger cannot be taken too seriously because a wall of moving, suffocating snow leaves few survivors in its wake. The best way to avoid an avalanche is to be knowledgeable of avalanche conditions and reroute your trip to avoid them. Avalanches occur when loose snow or a slab of snow starts moving down a slope. Avalanches are triggered by a variety of slope, snow and weather conditions; many times they are triggered by human impact. Slope conditions to watch out for are steep slopes or smooth, open slopes. Short slopes can be as dangerous as long ones. Leeward slopes are dangerous because wind-deposited snow adds depth and may create unstable slabs of snow.
Avoid avalanches by staying away from mountainous terrain after heavy snowfall or prolonged periods of high wind. Avoid crossing steep side hills or entering narrow, steeply side canyons. The safest routes are on ridge tops and on the windward side, away from cornices. The next safest route is out in the valley, far from the bottom of a slope.
If you are caught in an avalanche:
- Call out so other members of your party can track your location.
- Discard all equipment and get away from your snowmobile.
- Make swimming motions and try to stay on top; work your way to the side of the avalanche.
- As you feel the avalanche slow, try to thrust your hand or any other part of your body above the surface.
- Before the snow settles, slip your arm in front of your face to clear air space.
- Try not to panic; you need to preserve oxygen.
If you are a survivor, you are a victim's best hope of survival:
- Mark the place where you last saw the victim and keep you eyes fixed on the moving mass of snow in which he is trapped.
- Search for the victim directly downslope from the last sighed area when the snow stops moving. Use a ski pole or stick to probe the snow.
- Stay with the victim unless help is only a few minutes away; after 30 minutes, the victim has only a 50% chance of survival.
- If the victim is found, treat for hypothermia, suffocation and shock.
For more information, visit the North American Avalanche Centers website.