Avalanches can be extremely dangerous, When traversing an avalanche prone area, you need to know how to avoid causing an avalanche, getting caught in an avalanche, and how to survive an avalanche.
More important than anything is to know your terrain before you go out. Learn all of the avalanche facts that you can. Check local avalanche forecast to see if an avalanche is a possibility. When you travel in avalanche-prone areas you have to be knowledgeable in recognizing terrain, the avoidance of avalanche areas, and planning your routes.
It is also useful to be skilled in search and rescue techniques. Always carry the proper gear like shovels, avalanche transceivers, and probe poles. If you don’t know what these things are, you should not be traveling in avalanche-prone terrain.
What Is An Avalanche
Avalanches are one of the most dangerous natural disasters that can occur in mountainous regions. They are unpredictable, and there is no way to know what might trigger them or what they will do once they have started. This blog post is going to tell you what you need to know about avalanches so that if you ever find yourself in this situation, you’re more prepared than not!
The avalanche risk is highest in areas where snow has accumulated heavily during winter. This occurs around ski resorts and mountain passes. There is also a higher risk of avalanche near rivers and lakes due to heavy rainfall and fast flowing water.
Types of Avalanches
There are three types of avalanches. They can be triggered by natural forces such as earthquakes or landslides, human-made events like rock slides, or other human activities like mining.
Loose Snow Avalanches
Start from a single point adding and accumulating more and more loose snow as they spread out. They are caused by the new fallen snows weight submitting to the force of gravity. Occurring mostly after cycles of heavy snow (about 10 inches or more of accumulation, or snow falling an inch or more every hour) most often when it is piled atop a smooth snow surface that has melted, thawed and froze. This type of surface creates a smooth, slippery ramp for the new snow to run off of.
Are caused when dense packed overlaying segments of snow are not securely established to the slope. When there’s a weak layer of snow on the bottom of a compact layer, the slope is likely on the point of avalanche. Forces like the sun, the wind, or a person can set off the slab.
Slopes anywhere from 25 and 40+ degrees. Especially slopes that are in the direction that the wind is blowing. These get greater snow loads. You can read all about the 1999 Galtür avalanche avalanche on Wikipedia.
Crossing Avalanche Zones
- Remove straps on ski poles and undo all buckles on packs.
- Put on more warm clothing in case you are lured into a danger of being trapped.
- To keep snow out of your clothes (collars, cuffs, etc.) fasten and zip up all clothing securely.
- Use an avalanche beacon or an avalanche cord.
- If a slide is set off, look for any land mass of safety like a protruding rock, an elongated area of trees and head to it’s safety.
- With all group members watching each other, cross only one at a time.
How To Survive an Avalanche
1. Stay calm: In an avalanche situation, stay calm, do not panic, and act quickly.
2. Get down! Get down immediately because you are likely to become buried under tons of snow.
3. Keep your hands clear of your face: Your eyes might freeze shut, making it difficult to breathe. You could also suffocate if you cover them with your gloved hand.
4. Make yourself comfortable: Find a stable place to sit or lie down, preferably flat but elevated above the ground. Avoid lying prone on the ground.
5. Protect your head: Cover your head with something soft and insulating. Wear helmets with goggles.
6. Protect your extremities: Cover your mouth and nose with your jacket sleeve or scarf. Wrap your legs together.
7. Protect your back: Lie with your feet against a tree trunk or rocks. Place your arms over your head.
8. Protect your core: Do not move your hips or stomach. Keep your lower body still.
9. Digging may save your life: Try digging towards the source of the avalanche. Dig until you are able to stand up.
10. Don’t try to walk: Walk slowly and carefully downhill once you are
Avalanche Safety Tips
- Most victims trigger their own avalanche.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Watch for evidence of sliding, snow sluffs – small slides indicating avalanche danger, avalanche chutes or slides where trees have been torn away, or snow debris at the bottom of a slope indicating previous avalanches.
- Keep track of the weather. The first 24 hours after a heavy snow, high wind, rain, or thaw is the most dangerous period. Check local avalanche forecasts and be prepared to postpone your trip if the danger is high. Delaying for 24-48 hours can significantly reduce the danger.
- Recognize danger zones and be conservative about planning your route or crossing a slope.
- Travel on ridge tops or heavily wooded areas as much as possible.
- Avoid the mid slopes or the release zone near the top of the slope.
- Detour completely around a suspect slope.
- If you must cross and avalanche slope, gather as much information as you can about the snow pack. Probe the snow to see if there is even resistance (if so the danger may be reduced). If there is uneven resistance to the probe (breaks through a crust, punches into layers of loose or unconsolidated snow) then the avalanche danger may be high. Even better, find a safe location on an adjacent slope with similar exposure, snow level and steepness and dig a test pit. Look at the different layers. If you see layers characterized by course, grainy, crystals, the slope is probably not safe. If layers are firm and bonded it might be safe.
Avalanches are not something to take lightly, each year they claim more than 25 lives in the US alone. Knowing how to avoid them, what to look out for and finally, how to survive an avalanche could save your life.