In the 2016 – 2017 winter season, 12 people in the United States were killed by avalanches, according to the Avalanche Information Center. Recently, two young snowboarders went missing in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. As of the posting of this blog post, the search for them has been suspended indefinitely.
Both skiers carried cell phones, GPS locators and avalanche safety gear to no avail. This situation has deeply affected the ski community, serving as a stark reminder of the dangers of participating in recreational backcountry activities during wintertime.
While our sincerest thoughts go out to the families of the two snowboarders, I want to do to my part in spreading avalanche preparation tips to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Before you head out to the slopes or the back country, never go alone. Be sure to always go with a group or partner. Take some time to familiarize yourself with basic avalanche safety precautions. There are several things that you can do in order to help keep you and your party safe.
Practice: Take an avalanche safety course that has a beacon training park. The course will enable you to locate and avoid potential trouble spots where there is a greater chance of an avalanche occurring. Rangers will also give you expert advice that you need for your best chances of surviving an avalanche.
Proper gear: Always properly prepared for the worst. A beacon can mean the difference between life and death in an avalanche. A folding shovel, probe, puffy jacket, cell phone, fire starter, along with food and water should be the bare minimum of gear that you carry with you.
Weather: Be sure to check the weather reports before going out. If possible, call the forest ranger station and ask about avalanche potential in the area you will be traveling and recreating at. Let the ranger know approximately where you plan to go and where you plan to park your car.
Always be alert: The best safety gear you can carry are your eyes and ears. Think back to your avalanche training and constantly scan the surrounding areas for signs of danger. If you hear a noise that sounds like a “whuuump” when you’re skiing along flat terrain, it means you need to leave that area immediately. Odd noises like that often mean that the snow is unstable and could break loose at any minute.
If you’re suddenly caught in an avalanche, the first thing you must do is try to escape off the slab you’re on. If you can’t get off it, ditch your equipment – but keep your backpack on. It should contain lifesaving supplies and tools.
At this point in time, you need to fight as hard as you can. Start swimming, roll like a log, try your best to orient yourself towards the surface. When the avalanche comes to a stop, make sure to have one hand near your mouth so you can open an air space. Try keeping the other hand extended towards the surface so rescuers can find you.
Common sense is the best way to stay safe when skiing or snowboarding in the backcountry. Come to the mountain prepared with the right gear and the right knowledge to ensure that you and your party will make it out alive and in one piece. Be safe, be cautious and always be alert on those mountains.
If you or a loved one have been injured while out in the snow, don’t hesitate to contact my team and I at Evergreen Personal Injury Counsel to schedule a free consultation. We have decades of experience helping injured clients seek the justice that they deserve.