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How to deal with an avalanche


13 January 2016 Author Paul Quigley


Preparation is key when skiing off piste or planning a trip with our without a guide into the back country. Remember most deadly avalanches are triggered by humans so this handy guide provides a list of things to be be aware of in order to keep you safe.



Pre-travel Planning



Basic winter gear, mobile phone (check it's fully charged and take with you an extra battery if possible), map, compass (most smartphones can help with this, but you might want to save all the battery you can), beacon, headlamp, extra batteries, probe, shovel and last, but no means less important, an avalanche airbag system.


Rescue plans

It's not a bad idea to choose a group leader for emergency situations. Discuss who has rescue training and then having elected that person, let them lead. Chinese parliments in a moment of danger can only hinder the situation.


Different routes

Pre plan everything. Discuss the objectives for your trip and choose at least 3 options: Firstly an ideal route for where you would like to go based on perfect conditions and then have options for a safer and safest route just in case things are not as you had hoped.


Time schedule

It can be important to study the time required to get to your chosen points and to decide the time you can stay in them. Don't forget about hazards that increase with time and to include some time for unexpected events. Beware as well of losing daylight. Conditions can be deceptive in a fading light and where people are rushing to get back to get the last lift of the day. 



Try to check your local weather and avalanche forecast every day before heading out to the mountain. If you are not sure how to read an avalanche warning then check out our avalanche warning levels post. We have also compiled a list of online avalanche bulletins and where possible we have used Google translate to convert them from the native language into English.


Terrain selection

  •     • Consider if the conditions and the terrain are appropriate for your group.

  •     • Most avalanches happen on slopes with an inclination between 30 and 45 degrees, don't forget.

  •     • Steep cliffs and gullies can be death traps, try to stay away from them.


    Safe techniques 

  •     • When crossing a potentially dangerous terrain do it one at a time.

  •     • Always try to find an escape route for an unlikely but no impossible avalanche.

  •     • Tell someone outside the group where you're going and when moving on to the slope always communicate before with your group colleagues.

  •     • It may be interesting to identify safe zones and even practice stopping in them.


    Human errors often made 

  •     • Overconfidence in the group's abilities.

  •     • Fear of conflict with other members of the group that entail not speaking out when concerned about a route or slope.

  •     • Being overconfident in an areas stability just because you've been there before without incident.

  •     • Overdetermination to reach a destination without having evaluated new possible terrain and weather conditions.


Instability (Red flags)


Before heading out check for:

  •     • Avalanche activitiy that has occurred recently or is ongoing.

  •     • Whoompfing noises or shooting cracks while traveling on moderately angled slopes.

  •     • Periods of heavy snowfall that have occurred recently or are ongoing.

  •     • Strong winds leaving wind slabs on leeward slopes.

  •     • Rapid warming temperatures or rainfall.


What to do if caught in an avalanche


  •     • Attempt to get to the edge of the moving snow.

  •     • Make use of all your strengh to try to stay on the surface.

  •     • Yell all you can just in case other people can hear you.

  •     • Once the snow starts slowing down try to push your hand up through the snow surface.

  •     • Just before the snow stops, attempt to create an air space in front of your face.

  •     • If you get buried try not to panic and stay calm.