Avalanche Survival Stories

Avalanches have been the cause of many deaths over the years. With the many deaths, however, have come quite a few survivors as well. There are a lot of avalanche survivor stories that the world has come to appreciate and love due to their happy endings. This article will be making one of those known.

The avalanche survivors of Utah

On the 11th of January, 2014 this year, Matt Morgan had the highly unpleasant experience of being caught in an avalanche that could have led to his death if it weren’t for his friends.

Matt, a man from Farmington, was snowmobiling down a hill in Snow Slide Canyon in Idaho, very close to the Utah border, that he had already ridden through many times before. Although experienced, Matt was suddenly surprised by seeing snow rush past his side-line vision. All of a sudden, his snowmobile lost stability and he blacked out at once. It took Matt’s friends about 10 minutes to dig him out of the 2 feet of snow that had covered him. Matt was rushed to the hospital. After his treatment, he thanked his friends and credited both, his friend’s rescue training and the equipment used for saving his life.

“I feel extremely blessed” Morgan added. He made his statement on the following Wednesday sitting in his wheelchair in the McKay-Dee Hospital. Although he is now safe and on the mend, he broke his arm as well as both femurs in the slide and thus will need quite some time to fully recover from the accident.

“Justin Hilderth” was the one who first saw Matt as he was cutting across the hill and going down. He, was the one who called out to Matt trying to warn him, who unfortunately wasn’t able to hear him over the screaming engine of the snowmobile. Justin continued that he felt very helpless as he saw Matt go down into the slide. He called to the others and when they waited to see if he would come up but. He didn’t. They quickly gathered all their tools to get him out of there while Justin went up the hill to call for help.

The very first thing Matt said he remembers is his friends calling his name and brushing his face off.

An average of 4 people are killed by avalanches in Utah per year and are mostly triggered by humans.

A different story that was picked by CNN is featured in the video below.

Prominent Avalanche Victims

Avalanches are one of the most disastrous of all natural disasters. With so much noise about climate change, people have had to deal first hand with some of the damaging effects that these avalanches have caused. Below are some prominent avalanche victims who have died in consequence of being caught.

  • Mieczysław Karłowicz died at the age of 32 at Tatra Mountains on the 2nd of August, 1909 in Poland – Slovakia border.
  • Giacinto Sertorelli died at the age of 22 at Germisch, Bavaria on the 26th of January, 1938 in Germany.
  • James Palmer-Tomkinson died at the age of 36 at Klosters, Graubünden on the 7th of January, 1952 in Switzerland.
  • John Semmelink died at the age of 20 at Germisch, Bavaria on the 7th of February, 1959 in West Germany.
  • Toni Mark died at the age of 24 at Rottach-Egern, Bavaria on the 7th of March, 1959 in West Germany.
  • Ross Milne died at the age of 19 at Patscherkofel, Innsbruck, Tyrol on the 25th of January, 1964 in Austria.
  • Buddy Werner died at the age of 28 at St. Moritz on the 12th of April, 1964 in Switzerland.
  • Barbara Henneberger died at the age of 23 at Las Trais Fluors slope, St. Moritz on the 12th of April, 1964 in Switzerland.
  • Michel Bozon died at the age of 20 in Megève in Haute-Savoie on the 23rd of January, 1970 in France.
  • Michael Kennedy died at the age of 39 in Aspen, Colorado on the 31st of December, 1997 in the United States of America.
  • Sonny Bono died at the age of 62 in Heavenly, Nevada on the 5th of January, 1998 in the United States of America.
  • Doak Walker died at the age of 71 in Steamboat, Colorado on the 30th January, 1998 in the United States.
  • Michel Trudeau died at the age of 23 in British Columbia on the 13th of November, 1998 in Canada.
  • Régine Cavagnoud died at the age of 31 in Innsbruck, Tyrol on the 31st of October, 2001 in Austria.
  • Prince Friso of Orange-Nassau died at the age of 44 in Lech, Vorarlberg on the 17th February, 2012 in Austria.
  • Jonathan Stevens died at the age of 23 in French Alps on the 26th of February, 2012.
  • David Coe died at the age of 58 in Aspen, Colorado on the 21st of January, 2013 in the United States.

Facts you need to know about avalanches:

  • Slab avalanches are very deadly.
  • Every single year, avalanches cause the deaths of more than 150 people all over the world.
  • In 90% of avalanche accidents, the victims themselves caused the snow slides leading to the accident.
  • The human body will generally sink into the snow because it is about three times dense as avalanche debris. You can be safe by clearing air space for breathing when the slide slows down. Then punch your hand upwards. The debris becomes hard as concrete once the slide stops.
  • Unlike Hollywood suggests, noise is rarely the cause of an avalanche. Avalanches can be caused by a steep slope, a trigger and a weak snow cover.
  • Avalanches are triggered when the weight of an individual exceeds just the right amount to crumple the weak layer of snow beyond the surface.
  • The risk of an avalanche most often peaks 24 hours after snowfall of 12 inches or higher.
  • Any slope you see in your neighborhood that you suspect might produce an avalanche will eventually do so given the right conditions – this is why you always need to be careful. Should you hear cracking and whooping sounds, you need to be alarmed.
  • The survival rate of a person who is saved within 18 minutes of an avalanche is higher than 91%. However, the chance of survival decreases to 34% when rescued between 19 and 40 minutes.
  • Lack of oxygen is the primary cause of death following avalanche disasters

How To Survive an Avalanche

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.

1. Precautions

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.