- Going to the snowy mountains is not all fun. Amidst it all lies avalanches so strong they can uproot anything that blocks their path.
- An average of 27 people in the US die every year from avalanches.
- Here are some ways you can survive the deadly grip of an avalanche.
Following is a transcript of the video.
An average of 27 people in the US die every year from avalanches. The saddest part is that the victims are actually the ones triggering the avalanches in the first place.
Avalanches are one of the most powerful forces of nature humans ever come across. In seconds, they can sweep trains off their tracks, uproot trees, and collapse entire buildings. They can also bury unsuspecting backcountry travellers under feet of snow. But there are some tricks you can learn to make sure that slope won’t be your last.
The number one way to avoid getting caught in an avalanche? It’s pretty obvious steer clear of places where avalanches happen, namely snow-capped mountains with steep slopes. Specifically, slopes between 30-45 degrees.
But if you insist on climbing Everest or skiing in Aspen, then your first rule of thumb should always be to check the daily avalanche forecast. Most avalanches happen right after a heavy snowstorm especially a windy one. Winds can pack the snow in more tightly, creating a strong, dense layer of snow on top.
But you can’t predict an avalanche by this layer, alone. The real threat is what lies underneath. If the underlying layer of snow is weaker than the top, all it takes is the right amount of pressure and WHUMPF!
That’s the first thing you’ll hear. It’s the weak layer collapsing under your added weight, like a house of cards. You may even see cracks form in the slab of snow around you. If you can, try to get off the slab, since that’s what will be tumbling downhill in a few milliseconds.
But if you’re unable to escape, try grabbing on to a nearby tree. No trees?
Then you’re going to go for a ride. But don’t lose hope! Immediately cover your mouth to prevent snow from getting into it and hope you don’t crash into anything.
Being in avalanche is like being caught in a violent ocean wave. Over 70% of deaths occur because the person can’t breathe. That’s why it’s imperative that you try to keep your head above the swelling cloud of snow around you. This moment, right here, could make the difference between life and death.
Don’t worry too much about form. Thrashing, kicking, breaststroke whatever keeps you near the surface. And contrary to popular belief, if you’re wearing a backpack, hold on to it!
The second-highest risk of death is trauma from hitting a tree, boulder, or another stationary object at a high speed. Keep your backpack on, and you have an extra cushion behind you for protection.
After the snow settles, there’s not much you can do but wait for rescue.
This isn’t like the snow you’re used to once it stops, the consistency will feel like cement. It’s nearly impossible to dig out of.
Your biggest concern now is breathing which will not be easy, and could even backfire on you. While snow is often porous, your warm breath can temporarily melt the snow that’s in front of your face. And under the cold conditions, that water will likely re-freeze into ice, which is not good.
What you’re left with is a layer of ice that basically seals you in with the CO2 you’re exhaling. You might as well tape a plastic bag over your head.
To avoid suffocating, try to punch your hand to the surface. This offers a clear signal to rescuers and if you can wiggle it around creates an air shaft for you to breathe.
Statistics show that you have the best chance of survival if you’re rescued within about 15 minutes. After 20 minutes, your chances drop to about 30%.
Thanks to advanced technology, there are ways you can drastically improve your odds. Attach an avalanche beacon to yourself before you even go into the backcountry. Rescuers can use it to track you down.Also consider wearing an airbag pack, which can keep you buoyant in an avalanche.
Even with these tools, safety isn’t guaranteed. So, be smart about when and where you choose to climb.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on April 27, 2018.
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