Avalanche wisdom

By Doug Williams
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Avalanches are terrifying and for good reason. No matter how much we know about them, they are always a serious threat in the areas where they occur. The best strategy to deal with the possibility is to always travel in a group while carrying the essential tools for survival, which would definitely include a good quality shovel, a beacon, and a post. You should also keep with you an avalanche airbag.

You and your group should be aware of the avalanche triangle. You should all be aware of what conditions lead to avalanches, and you will need to be very familiar with the use of the essential gear and tools you will need in a worst-case scenario.

Make sure your whole group knows what to do if an avalanche happens

In spite of being prepared for such an incident, it will be a shock when it happens so it’s important you keep in mind the things you will need to do.

  • Shout as loud as you are able in an attempt to alert the others in your group. Yell and make a spectacle of yourself so that your position can be well noted in the case of you being swept up in the avalanche.
  • If this happens, then hopefully you prepared correctly so that you are geared up and in possession of those items essential for survival. An avalanche airbag is one such item. In the worst case, you will need to put it into your mouth and activate it.
  • In the case of you being taken off your feet by the fast-moving snow, you must fight to endeavor to stay as close to the surface of the moving mass of snow as is possible.
  • Try to increase the surface area of your body by spreading your arms and legs as widely as you can. This can help to keep you at the top of the debris and snow. It is advisable to try and breathe through your nose and avoid getting your mouth filled with snow.
  • As the avalanche slows, you will likely be buried unless you have been lucky enough to be thrown to the surface. Bring your arm in front of your face to make an air space around your face. Push the snow away if possible so that you can breathe air from the airbag as soon as you are still.
  • When all has gone quiet, you will be “frozen” in place, and the snow above your body will prevent you from being able to move about. That is why you need to create an air pocket so that you do not find an “ice mask” forming about your mouth and nose which will cause you to suffocate.
  • If you were able to make this air pocket and you are in any way able to move your other arm, thrust it towards the surface. You will need to do whatever you can to indicate where it is you are buried. You need to attempt this before you come to a complete stop and are still able to move.
Hopefully you will never need it, but always be prepared for a survival situation when on the mountains

Stay calm; once the avalanche stops and you are buried, you will be unable to move. You will likely be packed tightly in the snow. If you wriggle, you will be wasting energy, so try not to panic. When you hear someone, shout as loudly as you can. If you are shouting, the chances are they will be able to locate you. Do not waste oxygen, energy, and resources until such time, though.

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