How can I Survive an Avalanche?

Diana Bocco

If you are a winter sports aficionado, learning how to survive an avalanche should be high in your list of priorities. Even if the chances of ever being involved in an accident are slim, knowing how to protect yourself can make the difference between life and death if you are ever caught in an avalanche. To survive an avalanche, you need to keep a few things in mind.

The word "avalanche" comes from the Romansh language of Switzerland.
The word "avalanche" comes from the Romansh language of Switzerland.

Your best chance to survive an avalanche comes from moving out of the way. Sometimes avalanches start right under your feet, which gives you a small chance to jump uphill; or you could try jumping sideways, out of the avalanche slope. The center of the avalanche is often the deadliest place to be caught on. While you may not be able to escape the falling snow completely, even a few meters can make all the difference.

A snowboarder should quickly get rid of his board during an avalanche.
A snowboarder should quickly get rid of his board during an avalanche.

You will have more chances to survive an avalanche if you can stay in the same place rather than allowing the snow to carry you downhill. Hold on to something like tree stumps or rocks if you have a chance, and get rid of anything that may weight you down, such as backpacks, ski poles, or your snowboard.

If you end up buried under the snow, you need to move fast to survive. Snow gains density as it begins to settle, and it may become confining enough that it does not even allow your chest to expand for proper breathing. To survive an avalanche, start swimming up as soon as you feel the snow slowing down. Try to reach up before the snow settles; once it does, it canbecome too hard for you to climb your way out.

Finally, it is easier to survive an avalanche if you are not alone. People traveling in groups should spread out slightly over the side of the mountain, so there is more chance for at least one person to escape the avalanche. Whoever is out can call for help and pinpoint the location of the missing climbers. If you are alone in the mountain, carry a rescue beacon, and use it as soon as you realize there is an avalanche on the way. Even if you are buried, the signal will show others your location and up the chances for a successful rescue.

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