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Avalanche Risk Can You Survive an Avalanche? What To Do In Case Of An Avalanche

How to Survive an Avalanche

An avalanche is a mass, consisting of ice and snow, which breaks free from a mountain slope, and surges downhill at a high speed. Knowing what to do if you are ever in an avalanche is key to survival.

Mountains attract adventurists of all sorts: climbers, skiers and tourists. Each must be aware of the dangers posed by avalanches. Fortunately, scientists are perfecting the detection, prevention, and safety measures relating to survival and safety in potential disaster zones.

Avalanches are deadly and disastrous. Annually, they claim more than one hundred-fifty lives worldwide. Many more become victims of avalanches, but are only partly buried or injured. Most victims are experienced people who engage in extreme mountain sports. They cross hazardous mountain terrain. Non-recreational deaths result from naturally released avalanches that bury buildings and roadways.

In the United States, the highest probability of avalanche activity takes place in wintertime. The greatest death counts occur in January, February and March of each year. This is when the snow is heaviest in mountain areas. However, there is a high death count in May and June, because of spring snows and melting that catches many by surprise. Climbers are often caught in avalanches during these months.

It is good to have some basic knowledge about the characteristics of avalanches, and how to avoid areas prone to them. Knowledge of weather and terrain in your area will help you in your survival if you become a victim of an avalanche.

Three parts of an avalanche path:

Starting zone: This is the most volatile part of a slope. Unstable snow can break free from the adjacent snow cover and proceed on a downhill slide. These are usually high up on slopes, beneath cornices and bowl shaped areas on mountainsides.

Track: This is the actual route of an avalanche. Take note of any terrain that you cross on your adventures. If the slopes look like chutes, or if there are vertical gouges where there are no trees on a slope, these are signs that avalanches have run through in the past.

Run-out zone: This is the end of an avalanche run, where snow and debris comes to a stop. Also, this is "deposition zone" where it all piles up to a height. It is in this zone that any victims are most likely buried.

A large, North American avalanche is usually one that is naturally released, and contains approximately 300,000 cubic yards of snow. However, victims who are skiers and recreationists are caught up in smaller yet deadly avalanches, such as the "slab avalanche". It is the most common and deadly avalanche, where layers of a mountain snowpack break loose and slide down the mountain.

Conditions impacting avalanche occurrences:

Factors that lead to an avalanche are weather, temperature, slope steepness, slope disposition, wind direction, terrain, vegetation, and condition of a given snowpack. Varying combinations of these can create low, moderate or extreme avalanche conditions. Study up on how these will affect mountain snow in your area.

If you are caught in an avalanche:

  1. Yell to call attention to yourself
  2. Let go of anything in your hands, such as ski poles, and take off any pack you may be carrying
  3. Use "swimming" motions to thrust upward, and attempt to stay near the surface of the snow. Avalanches in the deposition zone will compact tightly in the lower area of a pile-up.
  4. If you end up at or near the surface in the deposition zone, stick an arm or a leg out to make yourself visible to rescuers.

More information on avalanches can be found at National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Avalanche Risk Can You Survive an Avalanche? What To Do In Case Of An Avalanche
Avalanche Risk
preparing for avalanche emergency Every year, thousands of avalanches occur.Avalanches can be caused by wind, rain, snowfall, earthquakes, and the temperature rising.They can also be caused by skiers, snowmobiles, mountain climbers, and the vibrations of machinery used in construction.
  • An avalanche is caused when a layer of snow detaches and collapses down a mountain.
  • For an avalanche to occur, four elements need to be present: a sharp slope, a snowpack, a weakness in the snowpack, and a triggering factor (such as those mentioned above).
  • The planning of roads and train tracks should take into considering minimizing the risk of avalanches.
  • Controlled avalanches can be caused when there is a risk because of a dangerous snowpack.
  • Avalanches can attain speeds of up to 90km/h (~56mph).
  • After an hour, on average only one survivor is found among three victims of an avalanche.The most common causes of death in this case are suffocation, injury, or hypothermia.

Safety Tips for an Avalanche

  • If you have plans to travel in the backcountry, seriously consider taking a course in avalanche safety.
  • Make sure that you’re part of a group that is guided by an experienced person.Never stray too far from your group.
  • When travelling by car, make sure to locate the signs warning of avalanche zones and be sure not to stop in those areas.
  • Drive carefully in avalanche zones.Avalanches can reach the roads unexpectedly.
  • Carry a winter emergency survival kit with you while out in risky area.
  • Respect road closures.When there’s a high risk of avalanches, preventative controlled avalanches can be set off at any time and this is usually done using explosives.
  • If an avalanche is blocking your route of travel, stay in your car with your seatbelt fashioned.Wait for help.It’ll be easier to locate a car than a person in the snow.If possible, try to park yourself in a safe area.
  • Avoid driving in avalanches; even minor ones that you may not deem dangerous.
  • If you have a farm, it’s recommended that you remove your cattle from risky areas.Once an avalanche occurs, it’s rare that you’ll have time to react and manage the situation and animals.If your pastures, pens, or exits are at the base of a steep, snowy slope, be aware of fresh snow accumulating on top of already fallen, packed snow and what may occur as the temperature warms up.

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Can You Survive an Avalanche?

An avalanche is a mass, consisting of ice and snow, which breaks free from a mountain slope, and surges downhill at a high speed. Knowing what to do if you are ever in an avalanche is crucial to your survival. Avalanches are deadly and disastrous. Annually, they claim more than one hundred-fifty lives worldwide. Many more become victims of avalanches, but are only partly buried or injured. Most victims are experienced people who engage in extreme mountain sports. They cross hazardous mountain terrain. Non-recreational deaths result from naturally released avalanches that bury buildings and roadways.

Mountains attract adventurists of all sorts: climbers, skiers and tourists. Each must be aware of the dangers posed by avalanches. Fortunately, scientists are perfecting the detection, prevention, and safety measures relating to survival and safety in potential disaster zones.

In the United States, the highest probability of avalanche activity takes place in wintertime. The greatest death counts occur in January, February and March of each year. This is when the snow is heaviest in mountain areas. However, there is a high death count in May and June, because of spring snows and melting that catches many by surprise. Climbers are often caught in avalanches during these months.

It is good to have some basic knowledge about the characteristics of avalanches, and how to avoid areas prone to them. Knowledge of weather and terrain in your area will help you in your survival if you become a victim of an avalanche.

The Parts of an Avalanche Path

Starting zone: This is the most volatile part of a slope. Unstable snow can break free from the adjacent snow cover and proceed on a downhill slide. These are usually high up on slopes, beneath cornices and bowl shaped areas on mountainsides.

Track: This is the actual route of an avalanche. Take note of any terrain that you cross on your adventures. If the slopes look like chutes, or if there are vertical gouges where there are no trees on a slope, these are signs that avalanches have run through in the past.

Run-out zone: This is the end of an avalanche run, where snow and debris comes to a stop. Also, this is "deposition zone" where it all piles up to a height. It is in this zone that any victims are most likely buried.

A large, North American avalanche is usually one that is naturally released, and contains approximately 300,000 cubic yards of snow. However, victims who are skiers and recreationists are caught up in smaller yet deadly avalanches, such as the "slab avalanche". It is the most common and deadly avalanche, where layers of a mountain snowpack break loose and slide down the mountain.

Factors that lead to an avalanche are weather, temperature, slope steepness, slope disposition, wind direction, terrain, vegetation, and condition of a given snowpack. Varying combinations of these can create low, moderate or extreme avalanche conditions. Study up on how these will affect mountain snow in your area.

If you are caught in an avalanche:

  • Yell to call attention to yourself
  • Let go of anything in your hands, such as ski poles, and take off any pack you may be carrying
  • Use "swimming" motions to thrust upward, and attempt to stay near the surface of the snow. Avalanches in the deposition zone will compact tightly in the lower area of a pile-up.
  • If you end up at or near the surface in the deposition zone, stick an arm or a leg out to make yourself visible to rescuers.
What To Do In Case Of An Avalanche

If you find yourself in an avalanche, do the following:

  • Move away from machines, equipment, and any heavy objects in order to avoid injury.

  • Grab and hold onto something that is sturdy and anchored (tree, boulder, etc) in order to not be swept away by the avalanche.

  • Keep your mouth closed and your jaw tight.

  • If the avalanche is pulling you under, try to stay at the surface by mimicking the motions of swimming.

  • Try to move yourself toward the sides of the avalanche.

When the avalanche slows down, try and do the following:
  • Try to get to the surface.
  • Using one of your arms, create a pocket of air in front of your face.
  • Using your other arm, try to reach the surface.

When the avalanche is over, do the following:

  • Free yourself, if possible.

  • Breathe calmly, especially if you’re unable to reach the surface.

  • Stay Calm and shout for help only when a rescuer is nearby. It’s important to save your energy.