A great day on the slopes can turn south in a hurry in the event an avalanche begins to form and cascade behind you. Avalanches kill nearly 30 people every year, making them one of the most powerful and destructive natural forces on earth. Not only can they smother you in several feet of snow in seconds, but they can also carry debris at such a pace that they can destroy entire buildings.
If you’re an avid snowboarder, here are a few tips to survive this horrendous event.
- Stay Clear of Avalanche Zones
This one is probably the most obvious, but it is also the most neglected tip of all: stay away from any area that could potentially turn into an avalanche. Snow-capped mountains with slopes that angle between 30-45 degrees are the usual suspects, but you should also check the forecast every morning to see if conditions are right to form an avalanche also. High winds mixed with a heavy snowstorm are some of the biggest risk factors, but take a second to examine the makeup of the snow itself. If the bottom layer is weaker than what’s on top, it’s more prone to breakage and causing the top layer to storm down the mountain.
- Get Out of the Zone Immediately
The first thing you’ll hear is a massive crack in the surface, followed by visible splits in the snow you’re standing on. The best thing to do in this case is to evacuate the area immediately and head for a more secure footing. Grab a tree branch if possible to keep yourself from being carried away in the snow.
- Keep Your Head Above the Snow
No matter what, never allow yourself to be sucked underneath the surface in an avalanche. Nearly 70% of avalanche-related deaths occur because of suffocation, so do whatever you can to stay up. Kick, thrash, scream, swim – whatever – just keep that head up!
- Watch for Debris
The second biggest cause of death is impact trauma from hitting a rock or a tree itself. Although it may be next to impossible to angle your descent if you’re caught in an avalanche, do whatever you can to steer yourself away from those objects. Once the rush is over and the avalanche has finished, wait for rescue.