Backcountry Avalanche Safety

Winter and spring means avalanches in the backcountry. These are regular events but most of us dont pay attention unless someone gets injured or killed. You need to be smart and dont become a statistic. Whether you are snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing or climbing, you need to learn everything you can about avalanches to avoid ending up on the wrong side of a slide.

The sad fact is that most people caught in avalanches have triggered the slides themselves by traveling on or beneath unstable snow slopes. The typical avalanche victim is usually very skilled in their sport but have little knowledge or skills for dealing with avalanches. Here are some of the basics that you need to know.

A dry snow avalanche can speed downhill at 120 miles per hour. There is simply no way to outrun it and it can easily sweep you into trees and rocks, pull you over cliffs or tangle you in your equipment. Nearly a third of all deaths in avalanches are the result of trauma caused by being thrown around in the fall.

If youve survived until the snow stops moving, you now have to deal with a mass of concrete-like snow encasing your body. The snow that started as powder heats up and melts slightly from the friction of sliding downhill and refreezes solidly around you. This snow is often heavy enough to force the air out of your lungs and 70 percent of avalanche fatalities are caused by suffocation.

If you were able to form an air pocket before the snow settles, you may have a chance of survival. That’s assuming you and the rest of your party are wearing avalanche transceivers and know how to use them. Now, it’s a race against time because most people wont survive for more than 30 minutes under the snow. So being proficient with an avalanche transceiver and shovel is a must for winter backcountry travel. But the best defense is knowing how to read snow conditions and terrain and avoiding dangerous situations in the first place.

Disclaimer: Any backcountry activity is potentially dangerous and can be even deadly. Use of this site and any material or information obtained from this site (all of which is provided free of charge) is at your own risk, and outdoor.com expressly disclaims any liability. Compassmonkey.com assumes no liability, obligation or responsibility for any injuries, damages or death that might be linked to the site by interpreting or misinterpreting of the content of this site. It is in everyone’s responsibility how he or she uses information obtained from this site.

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