How to Survive an Avalanche

The winter has been brutal this year, between just the regular snow and the Polar Vortex, there have been many states that have seen record-breaking cold as well as record-breaking amounts of snow. Unfortunately, while all of that fresh powder may be very appealing to head out and shred, it can also create very dangerous situations. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict when or where an avalanche will occur. They may have some warnings that the conditions are ripe for one, but there is no true way to know when it is coming except when it has already started, and at that point, it is quite often too late to get away. While we certainly hope no one ever gets caught in one, knowing how to survive an avalanche is a good life skill to have.

We've pulled together some suggestions on how to survive an avalanche, but the first we cannot stress enough.

  • Wear a beacon This is the key to survival: If you get caught up in an avalanche, you may wind up miles away from where you started, so you need a beacon to help rescue teams find you. Once you are buried in snow, the clock starts ticking on your survival, and after 30 minutes of being buried, the situation becomes dire, so take precautions and wear a tracker.
  • Swim: This one sounds weird, and you really don't need to swim, but you do need to do your best to stay above the snow. It will come down on you like a wave, so do what you can to stay on top of the snow, really anything that will keep you from sinking.
  • Grab onto a tree: If at all possible, jump to the side of where the snow is coming, and grab onto a tree. Even if snow starts to come past you, if you can hang on to the tree, you may be able to walk away from the avalanche without becoming buried.
  • Jump away from it: If you are lucky enough to see it coming, jump across to the side. Avalanches usually have a certain width, so if you can get out of the way, then you'll be safe. Once you get away, keep moving away from the snow, and under no circumstance should you run away from it. It will overtake you, so if you can move, move to the side.
  • Spit: If you were unable to escape the snow, once you are done tossing and turning, dig a little area in front of your face free, and spit. Whichever way the saliva goes is down, and you need to try to dig the other way.
  • Dig an air pocket: If you have dug for a bit, and still cannot reach your arm out of the snow, you need to dig an air pocket in front of your face. This is key, as you are likely buried too deep to get out on your own, and you will need to make due with what air you have and sit tight until rescuers come to get you.
  • Remain calm: This is obviously easier said than done, but is important. Unfortunately, even if you dig an air pocket, you will not have a large amount of air. So you need to stay calm, and take even breathes, slowly. Panicking will cause you to go through your air supply much faster.

Getting caught in an avalanche is clearly a worst-case scenario for anyone out on a winter adventure, but the best way to survive any situation is to be prepared. Knowing how to survive an avalanche will help you increase your chances of survival.