Don’t let the snowy season get you down -- or worse, caught in an avalanche. With winter’s snowfall, avalanches pose a serious risk to skiers and snowboarders -- especially those in the backcountry. It is crucial to be educated and aware of how to react in situations like these. Here is some avalanche information that you need to know, plus information about what it takes to be safe in the snow in case of an avalanche.
What is an Avalanche?
An avalanche, also called a snowslide, is mass of snow that rapidly slides down an incline slope like the side of a mountain. Avalanches can be serious stuff. Avalanches can cause serious damage to property and create a serious safety concern.
What Can Cause an Avalanche?
An avalanche happens when the stress of some kind of triggering force, either a skier/snowboarder or gravity, is stronger than the snow cover. The snow cover’s strength comes from the bonds between each flake of snow. An avalanche can occur when the following three conditions are present: a snow-covered slope or incline, a mass or slab of snow resting on top of weaker snow, or a triggering action, like a skier or snowboarder.
Where Do Avalanches Occur?
Around Durango, most avalanches occur in the backcountry outside of more developed ski areas like Purgatory. Most avalanches occur on slopes ranging from 25-50 degrees. Avalanches generally occur above the timberline, but can roll to lower elevations if they obtain enough force and speed on the way down. It is possible for avalanches to start at lower elevations. Avalanches might take place in road cuts, gullies and small openings in the trees.
What Do I Do In Case of an Avalanche?
Be wise and know how to avoid being the cause of something that is potentially deadly! Many avalanches are caused by skiers and snowboarders. If you’re adventuring in the backcountry, you might be at risk. Keep safe in in case of an avalanche, and be sure to react quickly and calmly. In addition to the general avalanche information provided, here are some tips on how to be safe in case of an avalanche:
- Move up the slope. Because most avalanche victims are the trigger, sometimes the avalanche will start beneath their feet. If this happens, try to jump up the slope and away from the fracture line.
- Move sideways. Try to make your way to the side of the avalanche. If it begins above you, you may be able to get out of its path in time.
- Let go of your heaviest things and equipment. Detach your equipment and pack as quickly as possible because it will only weigh you down while you try to move out of the way of the avalanche. Only keep survival items, such as a transceiver, probe or snow shovel if you are buried in the snow. These items could pull you deeper into the snow once it reaches you.
- Hold onto something. If you are not able to escape, try to grab onto a sturdy tree or boulder. You may be able to hold on while it passes and stay above the snow.
- Swim. This will ensure you stay close to or above the surface. Kick your feet and thrash your arms in a swimming motion. Because humans are much denser than show, they are carried down easily.
- If you are buried in the snow: Extend an arm above your head. This will help when people are looking for you. Your hand will hopefully be above the snow or close to the surface if your body is pulled under. You will also need to create an air pocket by cupping your mouth when you are thrown around in the show. Once you come to a stop, this will form a small hole, which you can dig around to create breathing room. Lastly, conserve air and energy. Don't waste energy trying to struggle to get out, conserve and someone will be there shortly.
Snow is a beautiful thing, especially here in Durango. But it can also be dangerous and it is important to be prepared! Avalanche training classes are very helpful if you plan on spending time in the back country. Also, keep your avalanche equipment handy and prepared! The Colorado Avalanche Information Center offers classes and valuable information. Stay safe, and enjoy the great skiing near Durango.