Most avalanches begin within weak layers of snow that, at some point, will not be able to hold up the weight of the overlying snow. Other factors, such as a person’s step, major temperature changes and rapid wind speed will cause the snow to give way and slide downhill. As an avalanche approaches the bottom of the slope, it gains speed and power, which can cause even the smallest of snowslides to become major disasters. Here’s what you need to know to survive an avalanche.
1. Carry an emergency avalanche beacon. This device transmits a signal that will allow rescue personnel to find you more easily after an avalanche has occurred.
2. Swim to the surface. By using a swimming motion toward the fast-moving snow, it can help you stay on top of the flow and avoid being buried.
3. Sidestep the slide. The center flow of the avalanche will be where most of the power and snow is. Do your best to move toward the side of the flow immediately.
4. Climb up. If an avalanche begins at your feet, move up as quickly as possible above the fracture line. This can help prevent you from being dragged down with the snow.
5. Grab nearby items. By grabbing onto a nearby tree or pole, you can brace yourself against the snow flow. This is very helpful especially during smaller slides.
6. Make an air pocket. Lack of oxygen is one of the biggest killers in avalanches. Cup your hand around your mouth to create an air pocket if you cannot escape the slide. This will give you a better chance to remain breathing until help arrives.
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Spring 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.
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