What To Do If You’re Caught In An Avalanche
The snow was coming down at Lee Canyon. People were having fun and carving sweet lines when it happened… an avalanche. Thankfully early reports of four missing skiers were incorrect and everyone is accounted for. But what if you are on the wrong side of a freight train of snow barreling down on you? How do you survive being caught in an avalanche?
What Causes An Avalanche Anyways?
All that pretty snow is clinging on for dear life, the steeper the terrain gets. When it gets to be too much to bear, a sheet of snow can dislodge and start tumbling down the mountain, taking more snow with it. All it takes is a little movement, from a snowboarder going through to a limb falling off a tree to trigger the reaction.
It is an unbelievable sight and a potentially deadly one.
Preparation Is Key For Avalanche Safety
You picked the wrong day to hit the slopes, and now snowmageddon is at your doorstep. You need a game plan. Thankfully there are things you can do to prepare yourself.
A quick trip to Avalanche.org can help you get a look at the risk of an avalanche in the first place. Unfortunately Lee Canyon doesn’t feature an avalanche center to report back to the website. This is a helpful stop if you decide to head to other mountains like Brian Head.
They say you should dress for the job you want. You should dress for the disaster you don’t want. If you’re planning on heading to a slope with a risk of an avalanche, you should be dressed warm and armed with the proper tools. In this case, your tools are a shovel, an “avalanche probe” (a.k.a. “snow probe”) and an avalanche beacon.
The shovel is obvious… if you’re buried in snow, you’ll want to unbury yourself. An avalanche probe can help you be discovered, or discover someone in need of help. Finally there is an avalanche beacon. These will radio to search and rescue should you be caught in a precarious position.
OK, I’m Caught In An Avalanche. How Do I Survive This?
If you see the mountain of powder coming for you and you can’t avoid it… what do you do? Snow couldn’t kill me right? Well, actually. It could. The Utah Avalanche Center estimates that the vast majority of avalanche victims (93%) survive if they are plucked within the first 15 minutes, the odds drop drastically the longer you are under the snow. After 2 hours, it’s near zero.
- Although it may sound counter-intuitive, put your back to the avalanche. Feet pointed down the mountain. It’ll protect your head. Believe it or not looking at the avalanche will not make it cower. If there is a solid and sturdy tree nearby, maybe cling onto it. That could help.
- Stay calm once the movement stops. Don’t panic. If you traveled with others, they’ll be able to save you because you prepared, right? Right? If you didn’t travel with someone or they got caught up too, now would be a great time to use that avalanche beacon.
- Use a free hand to create some room between your face (and your chest) and the snow around you. Dig a little away if you can.
- Do NOT start struggling. Measured breaths. Save your energy. People saw the avalanche. Assume help is on the way. Only start yelling if you hear people above.
Skiing and snowboarding is an absolute blast. Knowing what to do just in case isn’t a terrible idea.