What to do During an Avalanche

Avalanches can be breathtaking, mystifying and downright terrifying depending on what side of the avalanche you happen to find yourself on. For most people, their only encounter with an avalanche will be sitting at home watching a nature channel and being awed by mother nature’s wrath, but let’s say your experience with an avalanche happens to come by first-hand experience. Will you be prepared to protect yourself or even have the instinct to know what to do when thousands of pounds of snow come barreling at you faster than a freight train.  If you are like most people, you’re going to panic without the proper training and resources. 

snow avalanche

So what do you do during an avalanche? First, it’s helpful to be aware of the signs of a potential avalanche.  It’s important that you watch for cracks in the snow around your feet or skis when hiking or skiing in the mountains. You may hear a “whumping’ sound, which can indicate the settling of snow or the possibility of a slab releasing.  If you witness these things, it’s important to be on heightened alert. Now let’s say you find yourself in the middle of an avalanche, the best thing you can do is first try and run perpendicular to the avalanche so you don’t find yourself directly in the heart of it, but if that isn’t possible, and you are in the middle of it, your best bet is to grab ahold of something solid. Avalanches commonly kill you through trauma such as broken bones, internal bleeding, asphyxiation, or being thrown off cliffs.  Your biggest step towards survival will be to grab onto anything solid, such as trees, rocks, etc., to avoid being swept away.   

Perhaps there’s nothing to grab ahold of or you are incapable of grabbing something. If that is the case, and you start moving downward with the avalanche, stay on the surface of the snow by using a swimming motion and try to move yourself to the side of the avalanche.  This requires you to utilize all your muscles and if it feels impossible, it is even recommended to thrash around violently just to keep above the snow.  

If you feel yourself getting pulled under it’s essential to lift one arm up high and reach for the sky. This will give search and rescue the ability to locate you under the piling snow. Another great tool to bring anytime you’re in the mountains is an avalanche beacon, as it can send out signals to others with your exact location.  This is crucial as that snow piles up stronger than a Stronghold Fence (don’t believe me just click here) and you want to be located as soon as possible.   

If you have succumbed to the avalanche and you are now buried, your arm is raised high to the sky, the most important thing you can do now is to remain calm and do not panic. What is most important now is to create breathing room by digging out space around you as best as you can. Safe travels.