How to Survive an Avalanche

How to Survive an Avalanche

React as Quickly as Possible

Step 1: Jump Upslope
Jump upslope. Many avalanche victims trigger the avalanche themselves, sometimes right under their feet. In such cases, try to jump upslope to avoid the crack. Avalanches move quickly, so this might be difficult, but there have been successful instances.

Step 2: Run to the Side of the Avalanche
Run to the side of the avalanche. Whether the avalanche starts uphill or downhill, you should run to the side. Don’t hesitate—run as fast as you can. If the avalanche starts uphill, you need to reach the side before it gets to you. The center of the avalanche moves the fastest and carries the most snow.

Step 3: Discard Heavy Items
Discard heavy items. To lighten your body weight, get rid of your backpack, ski poles, and other heavy items. This will help prevent you from being buried too deeply. Keep essential survival equipment like a radio transmitter, beacon, and shovel. If you’re buried, you’ll need these to help rescuers find you. Consider throwing a lightweight item, like a glove, onto the snow surface to increase your chances of being located.

Step 4: Grab Onto Something
Grab onto something. If you can’t avoid the avalanche, try to hold onto a large rock or sturdy tree. In smaller or more distant avalanches, you might be able to hold on until it passes. Even if you’re swept away, holding on can slow you down and prevent deep burial, or at least reduce how deeply you’re buried. Note that large avalanches might dislodge even large rocks and trees.

Step 5: “Swim”
“Swim.” Try to stay on the surface. Your body is much denser than snow, so as you’re swept downhill, you can easily be buried deep. Use a swimming motion with your arms and legs to stay afloat.

  • Backstroke. If you’re buried, lying face up makes it easier to breathe.
  • Swim upwards. Try to stay near the snow’s surface.

Survival After Being Buried

Step 1: Raise One Arm Above Your Head
Raise one arm above your head. After being buried, it can be hard to tell which way is up. Raising an arm helps you know which direction is up and makes it easier for rescuers to find you.

Step 2: Create a Breathing Space Around Your Head
Create a breathing space around your head. Once the avalanche stops, the snow sets like concrete. If you’re buried more than a foot deep, escaping on your own is unlikely. You must create an air pocket to breathe while waiting for rescue.

  • Use your hands or shovel to clear space around your mouth and nose. This can give you about 30 minutes of air.
  • Breathe deeply and hold your breath for a few minutes before the snow sets to expand your chest cavity. Without an air pocket, it can be difficult to breathe.

Step 3: Conserve Air and Energy
Conserve air and energy. After the avalanche stops, try to dig yourself out only if you’re not buried deeply. If you’re deeply buried, don’t waste energy struggling. Stay calm and wait for rescue.

  • If you hear people nearby, try to call out, but save your breath if they can’t hear you. Yelling wastes valuable air.

Step 4: Wait for Rescue
Wait for rescue. If you and your skiing partners have radio transmitters and beacons, help should be on the way. Stay calm and wait.

Increasing Your Chances of Rescue

Step 1: Carry Survival Gear
Carry survival gear. There are several items that can increase your chances of survival:

  • Avalanche beacon and transmitter. The transmitter sends a signal to locate you, and the beacon helps rescuers find you. Every skier should carry these.
  • Small shovel. Use it to dig out snow and create breathing space.
  • Helmet. Many people die from head injuries caused by snow impact.
  • Ski airbags. These have become popular in recent years as they help you stay near the surface of the snow, preventing deep burial.

Step 2: Take Avalanche Survival Training
Take avalanche survival training. Avalanches are common, and many organizations offer training on how to avoid them and perform self-rescue and mutual rescue. If you travel to avalanche-prone areas, it’s best to undergo such training.

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