Imagine yourself high on a mountain, surrounded by a world of white. The air around you crisp and cold. The silence so complete it seems you can hear your own thoughts as if they are spoken out loud. Suddenly the ground seems to disappear under your feet, like a rug being pulled out from under you, and the silence is filled with qa deafening roar. Avalanche!
Like a great wall of snow destroyingeverything in its path, an avalanche is an amazing force of nature. The amount of snow and debris careening down the mountain can weigh hundreds of thousands of tons and travel at speeds up to 100 mph. They areresponsible for an average of nearly 150 deaths per year.
The key to surviving an avalanche is to avoid being caught in one. It's always important to research the area beforehand. Talk with rangers or others who would definitely know about local conditions and where one could possibly occur. Just as importantly always pay attention to local weather reports.
Due to the fact that most victims inadvertently start the avalanche themselves it can be difficult to avoid it once they start. There are some tips that can help you survive if one does occur.
- If the avalanche starts under your feet, try to jump above the fracture line. Usually they begin so quickly there isn't time, but it has been done.
- If an avalanche starts above you try to move to the side, out of its path. Do not hesitate, move as quickly as possible. It moves fastest in the center where most of the snow is.
- Try to stay on your feet. The longer you stay on your feet, the better chance you have of making it to the side. It is not easily done however, because the snow is moving beneath your feet.
- Try to grab onto something stationary like a boulder or a sturdy tree. Try to hold on as long as you possibly can. The longer you can hold on the better chance you have of at least being buried near the surface if you get carried away.
- If you are caught in an avalanche, use a swimming motion to stay near the surface of the snow. The stroke isn't important only the direction. Due to the force it is useless to try to swim against the flow, swim with it.
- Once the snow stops it settles very fast. If you are buried more than a foot it will be impossible to dig yourself out. Your only hope is to not suffocate. When the avalanche begins to slow down, but before it stops completely, create an air pocket by cupping your hands in front of your nose and mouth. This should give you enough air for at least 30 minutes. It is also important to try to remember to inhale deeply and hold your breath for a few seconds. This will cause the chest to expand giving you some breathing room when the snow settles around you. Without this space you may not be able to expand your chest to breath.
- If you are trapped near the surface you may be able to dig yourself out. Be very careful not to jeopardize your air pocket. If you hear people close to you try calling our to them. Don't keep calling if they don't seem to hear you. Shouting will only waste your air.
- If you are buried in a remote area and know there is no one near, your only chance is to try to dig yourself out. It can be hard to tell which way is up but there are a couple of things you can look for. If you are able to see light, dig towards it. If you are able to see your breath, dig the way it travels upward. There is also spitting in your hand and digging in the direction it runs.
The most likely way to survive an avalanche, besides avoiding it completely, is to be prepared. There are special backpacks/ hydration packs available that can help provide air. An emergency beacon can also be helpful. Most importantly research the area you will be in and always let someone know where you plan on going.