Seven tips for survival
Avalanches can occur at any time of the year. In areas without snow and temperatures above 0°C or 32°F, avalanches appear in form of a landslide, frequently after heavy rains. These landslides are often the most deadly of avalanches. This article is intended as a guide for survival for snow avalanches.
If you are in the mountains with families or friends, please make sure that all attendees are informed of the tips given here, and that all of them are equipped properly if there is any danger of getting caught in an avalanche. Just imagine you are enjoying the scenery of the mountain air and fresh powder snow when all of a sudden, the ground splits from under you. You will need to know exactly how to behave and also you need to be fast, or you will be deeply buried in snow in less than 60 seconds.
There are a lot of steps that you can take in order to prevent triggering avalanches. Most importantly, make sure you locate the local avalanche warnings, whether on the internet, the local skiing schools, or the responsible authorities. Information about the probability and danger of avalanches is always available, usually combined with advice. Observe it! When warned to stay out of an area, please stay out. This is the best survival tip of all.
However, avalanches also occur without warning and completely unexpectedly. If you end up getting caught in a disastrous situation, below is what you need to do.
2. How to react in the first few seconds of the avalanche
Try to jump up slope. Many victims of avalanches trigger the avalanche themselves, and the avalanche starts exactly under their feet. When this happens, make sure you react quickly. A quick and decisive jump up slope above the crack line may actually save your life, with the avalanche going downhill just underneath you. While avalanches take place very quickly, there is a short moment when the first crack appears and widens before the first sheet of snow starts its descent. These few seconds can save your life if you are able to react quickly.
3. Try to move to the avalanches side
No matter where you find yourself on the avalanche – whether it begins under or above you make sure you try your best to get to one side of the avalanche. Do not be indecisive. Try to move as quickly as you can and maneuver yourself as far to the side as possible. If the disaster starts above your position, the chances that you might get out of its way before it gets to you is quite high. The snow will move very fast close to the center of the flow but much slower on the edges. In addition, the snow masses accumulate in the center of the slide so that the danger of being buried deeply is greatest there.
4. Get rid of heavy equipment – with a few exceptions
The more light weighted you are, the greater the chance of staying near the surface of the snow masses. This is why holding on to heavy equipment will be a very big disadvantage. Make sure you let go of all poles, backpack or any other heavy tools you have with you. This helps to keep you on the surface of the snow and prevents you from sinking in. However, below are some things to know;
- Make sure you do not let go of the important survival equipment that you need to be carrying along with you such as snow shovels, probe, and transceivers – this equipment will be needed when you end up buried by the snow. Especially the transceiver belongs in your clothing, not in your backpack.
- Also, if you have a few moments before the avalanche reaches you, open the backpack. It will probably empty during its descent, leaving a trace on its – and most likely your – path. This will help rescuers to find you more easily when they come to search for you later.
5. Try holding on to something strong.
If it is impossible for you to get out of the avalanche’s way, do your best to get a hold of something like a strong tree, a boulder, a ski lift pole, or similar. If you are close to the edge of avalanche or if it is a small avalanche, you might be able to stay on the surface until the snow is able to pass by. Even if you were taken away from the object you get a hold of, if you are capable of delaying your descent downhill even by a few seconds, the chances of you not being killed or buried by snow increase significantly. Every second counts. However, bear it in mind that a strong avalanche can carry away very large trees and rocks.
6. Begin to “swim”
This tip is very important to assist you in staying close to the surface of the snow. The body of every human being is a lot denser than snow. You will sink as you are taken downhill. Try as much as you can to stay on top or afloat. This can be achieved by kicking your feet and thrashing your arms as if you were swimming. Detailed advice:
• Swimming needs to be done on your back so that your face will be turned towards the surface, giving you the best opportunity of getting more air faster when you end up buried.
• Swimming uphill is better. When you swim uphill, you will get closer to the surface of the snow.
7. How to Survive If You Get Buried in the Snow
1. Start by making sure one arm of yours is directly above the head. Make sure the arm is pointed directly to the surface of the snow and hopefully sticking outside of the snow cover. If you do this, people will be able to find you easily, greatly increasing your chances of being saved. This is one of the best ways rescuers are able to help or save many avalanche victims. You can spit out some saliva and allow it to trickle down in order to help you find out exactly which way is up.
2. Try to dig out a pocket around your face. As soon as the avalanche stops, all the snow will start to settle in very quickly, often becoming as hard as concrete. If you are buried deeper than one foot when it starts to set in, getting out on your own can be quite hard or prove to be impossible, especially if you have suffered an injury. All you can do in such a situation is to maximize the available air and hold on until people help to dig you out.
3. Your best bet to survive is the presence of a partner who is trained to react in the right way and who will dig you out.