Backpacker - - The Survival Issue -

On av­er­age, there are 28 avy fa­tal­i­ties each win­ter in the U.S. Nine of those are hik­ers, snow­shoers, and skiers. While care­ful plan­ning and nav­i­ga­tion can pre­vent most ac­ci­dents, some­times the slope still rips.

1. Learn the ba­sics. First things first: Get cer­ti­fied with an AIARE Level 1 course, which of­fers in­struc­tion on snow­pack and ter­rain haz­ards. Pack a bea­con, probe, and shovel into the back­coun­try—and know how to use them.

2. Avoid steeps. Don’t cross on or be­low slopes be­tween 30 and 45 de­grees —those are the ones most likely to let loose.

3. Get to sta­ble ground. If the snow starts slid­ing un­der (or above) you, try to es­cape the avalanche path and reach for a tree or plant a ski pole or ice axe be­yond the break line. Move fast—slabs can hit 80 mph within five sec­onds. Far from the frac­ture? Start ditch­ing po­ten­tial an­chors like skis and poles.

4. Stay above the snow. Only 40 per­cent of vic­tims sur­vive af­ter be­ing fully buried for 15 min­utes. Keep your pack—big­ger ob­jects tend to “float” in an avalanche, and it may pro­tect your back­side. Fight to keep your head above the sur­face, us­ing your arms to “swim” up­ward.

5. Cre­ate an air pocket. If you’re caught in the flow and likely to be buried, tuck your face into the crook of your el­bow (do this be­fore the snow stops mov­ing—once it does, it’ll set like quick-dry con­crete). If you can thrust your hand up­ward, it’ll make you eas­ier to find, but dig­ging your­self out isn’t an op­tion; save your en­ergy, and rely on your part­ners for res­cue.

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