When you’re skiing, snowboarding or taking part in another snow activity that’s not within a safe ski resort, you are going to be at risk of avalanches. If you get caught in a mass of snow that’s tumbling down a mountain, the results can be disastrous.
Don’t put yourself at risk, make sure that you fully prepare yourself so that you can avoid avalanches and their dangers. If you’re thinking of heading out to the backcountry, don’t go without taking a look at our survival tips. You’ll not only learn how to keep yourself safe but also your friends.
What to do Before Heading Out
Being a responsible backcountry skier or snowboarder means being well prepared. If you are planning a trip, then be sure to check the conditions and get yourself ready for any possible dangers.
Important Contacts – Get the contact numbers of all the local rescue services and keep them stored on your phone.
Good Company – Go with friends who you can rely on in the case of an avalanche. You should head off with people who also know how to be safe when doing a snow activity off-piste.
Safe Routes – Before you set off, have a good understanding of the routes that you’ll be taking so you can stay safe.
Danger Ratings – Know the avalanche danger rating levels: 1 Low, 2 Moderate, 3 Considerable, 4 High, 5 Extreme.
Avalanche Forecast – On the evening before heading out, check the official bulletin for the avalanche forecast in your area.
Professional Information – Contact local professionals such as the ski patrol and find out some extra information on the area that you’ll be heading to in case there are unknown dangers.
Partner Up – Never go out-of-area on your own. Always have at least one other person with you.
Safety Equipment – You should always have the necessary safety equipment when you’re heading to an off-piste area.
Practice, Practice, Practice – Make sure that you have practiced using all of your safety equipment, so you know exactly how to use it if the time comes.
Rescue Evaluation – Before you jump into an avalanche rescue, evaluate the hazards. If you’re only out in a pair, the last thing you want is for it to sweep both of you away.
Signs That the Snow is Unstable
Before you set foot onto the snow, inspect for any hints of unstable snow. If the snow looks unpredictable, don’t risk it, find another area to do your snow activity. Watch out for the following signs:
- If there are any cracks in the snow
- If the slope is at an angle of more than 30 degrees, an avalanche is more likely to occur
- If a harder layer of snow is laying on a softer snow layer – this is known as crust conditions
- If it looks like there has recently been an avalanche
- If the temperature warms to above zero
Avalanche Gear to Keep You and Others Safe
When you’re engaging in a snow activity, you obviously need your helmet and cold weather gear, but there are a few extra things that you should take along to ensure your safety in case of an avalanche:
Backpack – The first piece of gear that you’ll need is a pack to store the rest of the stuff in. You’ll need a bag that won’t reduce your snow activity ability; it’s best to go for a slim backpack, which also won’t hinder you from riding a chairlift.
Avalanche Probe – An avalanche probe snaps together like a tent pole does. They fold down nice and small, so they’re easy to fit into your backpack. If you come across a recent avalanche, and there are signs that there could be a victim under the snow, you can use this probe to see how deep the person in buried.
Avalanche Transceiver – This piece of gear, also known as an avalanche beacon, should get worn underneath the outer layer of your clothing. If you or a friend get swept into an avalanche, or if you come across an accident, the transceiver transmits your location so that people can find you.
Avalanche Airbag – You can get backpacks and jackets that are equipped with airbags. If you get caught in an avalanche, you can pull the ripcord, and the airbag will inflate to protect you. You’ll float to the surface of the snow as it torrents down the mountain and it helps to prevent you from becoming buried.
Snow Shovel – A small, collapsible shovel that gives you the ability to dig out an avalanche victim.