Chris Weiss's Blog

Surviving the Extremes: 10 Things to Do in An Avalanche

created on: 12/01/08Photo: Joe Schlabotnik

The thought of getting caught in an avalanche is terrifying. So much time is spent meticulously studying conditions, analyzing snowpack and avoiding risky descents that you may have never thought of what you'd actually need to do if you did trigger an avalanche and were caught. Here's some advice derived from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, How to Survive Anything, Anywhere by Dr. Chris McNab and the United States Forest Service National Avalanche Center.

1. Yell to let your friends to let them know you're in trouble. They'll need to monitor your fall to provide rescue.

2. If possible, get rid of your backpack, poles and skis to allow lighter flotation. Your BEACON should be in your clothing, not backpack.

3. Grab onto a tree or other fixed object when available and hold on as long as you can to allow the bulk of the slide to pass you.

4. Try to stay atop the snow using swimming motions and try to move laterally toward the sides of the avalanche where the force is weaker.

5. Keep your mouth shut to avoid inhaling snow.

6. If you are facing burial, punch an air pocket into the snow in front of your face as the slide slows to provide the most breathing space before the snow sets. Also try getting a hand or arm through the surface so that rescuers can find you more quickly.

7. Remain calm and DO NOT PANIC.

8. DO NOT expend oxygen by yelling and screaming for help. Yell only if you hear rescuers directly above you.

9. Spitting can distinguish up from down (gravity carries spit downward); however, snow sets like concrete, so digging yourself may not be possible. Unless you are able to break through quickly, do not expend a lot of energy and oxygen by trying to dig yourself out.

10. Breath slowly and steadily, remain calm and rely on the members of your group to find and rescue you.

Your friends/party will be your ticket to survival. It's best to ride with people that you trust and who are prepared. Your life is in their hands.

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