Backcountry Travel: Avalanche Safety

Avalanches are sign of winter and spring in the backcountry. They are regular events in the backcountry but most of us dont pay attention until someone is injured or killed. Knowing the warning signs and making sure everyone in your travel group knows and follows proper avalanche safety can help keep you from being a statistic. First, avoid areas with a high risk of avalanche danger. After that, pay attention to the following tips.

Avalanche Warning Signs
Every time you are going out in avalanche country you need to check the avalanche report before you leave home. If there is a high avalanche danger, this should be your first warning sign. If there is high avalanche danger in the mountains that day, plan your route in safer terrain, find something else to or just stay home. Once you’re out in avalanche country, even if there is lower risk of avalanche, be sure to keep an eye on your surrounding during your trip to stay alert to avalanche danger. The following signs should warn you of unstable snow and possible avalanches:

  • You see an avalanche or evidence of previous slides.
  • You see cracks at the top of the slope or around your feet or skis.
  • The ground feels hollow under your feet or skies.
  • You hear a “whumping” sound as you walk. This indicates that the snow is settling and a slab might be released.
  • You see baseball-size snowballs rolling down a sunny slope. These indicate surface warming and possibly a wet-snow slide.
  • You see patterns on the snow caused by strong winds. This could indicate snow is deposited in dangerous drifts that could release.

Route Selection of Avalanche Country
So where should you go in the backcountry You should all areas that present any of the warning. Travel on ridges and hilltops, open valleys and gentle slopes without steep sections or chutes above them. Travel on windward slopes, which wont have hanging cornices or deposits of blown snow. Heavily forested areas are a good choice, if they are thick enough and the slopes above don’t avalanche onto them. Be careful because groves and sparsely wooded areas can also slide.

If you have to cross a suspect slope, each person in your group should cross one at a time. Prepare yourself by removing ski leashes and pole straps and unbuckling your pack. If you have to remove them in a hurry, youll be ready. Zip up clothing and wear your hat and gloves, just in case you’re caught by the snow. Someone always needs to be watching the person in the “danger zone” and everyone should be prepared to come to the rescue if an avalanche occurs.

Take Charge of Your Safety
Staying safe in the backcountry depends on you and your group. Dont travel solo. Being part of a group is the only way to travel during avalanche season. It’s an absolute must for avalanche rescue! The experience and fitness level of your travel companions plays a role in the safe outcome of your trip. Before you leave the trailhead, “take the pulse” of the groups attitude, skills and preparation. Is everyone willing and able to take on the risk Is everyone prepared to deal with an avalanche accident

Everyone in your travel should have the following items: avalanche beacon, snow shovel, probe, survival blanket and first aid kit. Before setting out, be certain that everyone has a working avalanche beacon that is turned to “send.” And be sure that they are all compatible.

Wrap Up
Avalanches are regular events in the backcountry but most of us dont pay attention until someone is injured or killed. Changing your route to avoid areas where there is a high danger of avalanche is the first step to staying safe. But there is more to watch for to keep yourself safe. Pay attention to the warning signs. Be prepared if you have to cross a suspect slope. And make sure everyone has working avalanche beacon and that everyone knows how to use them. Dont be a statistic. Play it safe and everyone can enjoy their time in the backcountry.

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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