Six Tips for Surviving an Avalanche

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Plotting your descent into a white, untouched canvas is a feeling like nothing else. But there’s one concern that keeps every responsible backcountry skier or snowboarder humble before the drop in: the threat of avalanche. That’s why it’s important to be aware of snow conditions and what to do if trouble begins. Here’s a list of six tips that might just save your life if you have the misfortune of experiencing an avalanche. 

11. Move Sideways
The center of an avalanche is where the snow moves the fastest, making it the most dangerous place for you to be. Whether the avalanche begins directly beneath your feet or above you, the best strategy to avoid getting caught is to move sideways. It’s important to begin moving immediately after you notice the signs of an avalanche, because the quicker you get out of the way the higher your chances of survival. Just make sure you don’t move so quickly that you lose your footing!

2. Jump Upslope
Most avalanches that you experience skiing or snowboarding will be caused by, well, you. If this should happen, the snow will began to fall directly beneath you. The best strategy to avoid getting caught is to quickly jump upslope. If you are able to move beyond the fracture line fast enough you might avoid getting caught in the slide. Be careful with this one. It’s unlikely that your brain will process what’s happening fast enough for you to react in time to jump out of the way of a starting avalanche.

3. Carry an Avalanche Beacon
An avalanche beacon (also known as an avalanche transceiver) greatly increases your chances of survival once you have been buried. Most beacons transmit a radio frequency to a receiver or another beacon. This enables your rescuers to pinpoint exactly where you are underneath the snow before they start digging. If you are skiing off-piste it is absolutely essential to carry an avalanche beacon.

24. Grab Something
This obvious-sounding tactic greatly depends on the size of the avalanche, but in smaller, less powerful situations, it can save your life. While major avalanches have the strength to rip trees and rocks from the ground, grabbing onto them during a smaller slide can keep you in a static location and not get disoriented as the snow compacts around you.

5. Swim
Once you’ve found yourself being dragged down a mountain by an avalanche you should tap your surfing skills to avoid being buried deep. Try to stay afloat and keep your head in the open air by swimming as hard as you can in the direction of the fast-moving snow.

6. Create an Air Pocket
When buried in snow, asphyxiation is your biggest worry. Cupping your mouth when you are being thrown around by the snow will create a small pocket of air for you to survive on for up to 30 minutes. Once you’ve come to a stop, dig out a hole around your face. Another strategy is to expand your chest by filling your lungs with air so that you have more room to breath once the snow has settled.

Do you have any additional tips for avalanche survival? Let us know in the comments!