Even as the weather warms up, it’s important to realize that snowy conditions still exist throughout the country and in parts of California. If you plan on taking one last trip up a mountain to take advantage of some late-season snowboarding or skiing, then it’s vital that you know how to protect yourself from one threat in particular: an avalanche.
A new report from National Geographic examines the safety precautions that should be taken by someone who travels to an area where an avalanche is a possibility. The story was prompted by a recent tragedy in Colorado in which five people were killed because of an avalanche.
The first thing you should do to protect yourself is invest in the proper gear before you even head up the mountain. You should have a shovel, a probe, and a beacon on hand so that you can make your presence known to companions and dig yourself out should you be buried beneath a pile of heavy snow. You might also invest in an AvaLung system, which when hooked up, can allow you to breathe for a longer period of time than you might otherwise be able to. And an airbag system can propel you above the cascading snow rather than beneath it.
You should also have some other emergency gear on hand should you be caught in an avalanche but have to wait a few hours before you’re able to be rescued after being dug out. First aid, food, and warm clothing are essentials in such a situation.
One other piece of equipment that should be familiar to bicyclists and motorcycle riders? A helmet. Suffocation is not the only threat posed by an avalanche, and a helmet can cut down on the impact damage typically caused when a skier or snowboarder is thrust at high speeds into the ground.
Preparation also extends to your awareness level prior to the trip. The American Avalanche Association provides a service that details where an avalanche is most likely to occur. You should also stay clear of at-risk areas for at least a day after a foot of snow has fallen.
If you do find an avalanche bearing down upon you, do not panic. Try to move sideways out of its way or grab a tree if you can. Should the snow get ahold of you and pull you under, move your arms and legs in a swimming motion in a bid to stay near the top.
Should you find yourself buried, then you’ll want to clear some space around your mouth and nose as soon as possible so that you have breathing room prior to the snow settling. Push your arm upward to see if you can reach it into the open air.
Take these precautions to cut down on your chances of becoming one of the 150 or so people who are killed every year by an avalanche.