For skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers, the winter season is a welcoming sight. The fresh powder and the rush of flying down a mountain is all the incentive sport lovers need to hit the slopes.
But the risk of an avalanche is something winter adventure-seekers often overlook.
To be best prepared in case of an avalanche you need the proper safety equipment. The gear isn’t cheap, but it could end up saving lives.
The most important item is an avalanche transceiver beacon, a small transmitter that can be worn under the clothes. During a day in the backcountry, the beacon should be turned to transmit mode.
If you or a member of your party gets buried in an avalanche, the transceiver signal would allow the other members of your party or the search team to help locate you.
Two more essential items include probe poles and a snow shovel to help locate and dig out an avalanche victim.
The estimated cost for this gear runs between $400 and $500. All equipment can be found in town at Eastern Mountain Sports, Jax, and REI.
Simply owning the gear isn’t enough to protect you from an avalanche, however.
“Take the time to get to know your gear and practice the techniques necessary to operate the equipment properly. Reeducate yourselves every year and break out the gear early and practice,” said Scott Hapner, the Community Outreach Coordinator at Eastern Mountain Sports.
Besides knowing your gear, you should know what to do if an avalanche occurs.
So, what is the best thing to do if you are caught in an avalanche?
“You will want to eject from your skis and toss your poles. The gear that you have will act as a weight and pull you under. You cannot outrun an avalanche, so the best thing that you can do is to try to swim with the avalanche and stay on top of it,” said Hapner.
Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler’s book “Snow Sense” gives a good outline of the steps to take when caught in an avalanche.
First, call out so that anyone nearby can watch you as you are carried down the slope. Then, ditch any gear that you have which will weigh you down, such as skis, poles, and other heavy equipment. Next, use a swimming motion to try and stay on the surface of the snow.
Once the snow begins to slow down, thrust your arms or any other body parts through the surface so that you can be seen.
After the snow has stopped, cup your arm or hand in front of your face to clear an air space.
If you end up being buried, don’t panic. Stop fighting and relax to preserve oxygen.
If you must rescue someone else, the first 15 minutes are critical. There is probably no time to go for extra help, so you must be able to think clearly and react quickly.
According to the book “Snow Sense,” “it often takes hours for help to arrive on scene. If you go for help, you are usually going for a body recovery, not a rescue.”
First, try to note where the victim is as he or she is carried down the slope. Then, stay on the site and search for the victim, looking for clues such as clothing or equipment, and using your probe tool.
Conduct a beacon search of the entire area using proper techniques.
When you locate the victim, dig fast, but carefully avoid trampling the victim’s airspace. Try to uncover the head and chest first.
Immediate medical attention for shock, suffocation, hypothermia and other injuries is often required.
For further information, safety courses are also available on avalanche prevention and what to do if you are trapped in an avalanche. Eastern Mountain Sports and REI offer free avalanche information courses.
Before heading out for your next skiing or snowboarding expedition, take the time to educate yourself on information available on avalanches. Although the gear is expensive and the classes may take up some of your time, these things could end up saving your life. n