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a man surveys damage after an avalanche


An avalanche is a large amount of snow moving quickly down a mountain, typically on slopes of 30 to 45 degrees. When an avalanche stops, the snow becomes solid like concrete and people are unable to dig out. People caught in avalanches can die from suffocation, trauma or hypothermia.

Avalanches can:

  • Be caused by people, new snow and wind.
  • Move at speeds of 60 to 80 MPH.
  • Peak during the period of December through March.

How to protect yourself from an avalanche

  • Get training on how to recognize hazardous conditions and avalanche-prone locations.
  • Learn how to properly use safety equipment.
  • Sign up for alerts on current avalanche dangers.
  • Sign up for email updates and follow the latest guidelines about coronavirus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your local authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Wear a mask when possible, including when not wearing a ski mask. Children under 2 years old, people who have trouble breathing, and people who cannot remove masks on their own should not wear them.
  • Remember, there is no evidence that cold weather and snow can kill the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). COVID-19

  • Get proper equipment to protect yourself from head injuries and create air pockets.
  • Use devices to support rescue.
  • Always have a buddy, preferably one familiar with the area.
    • When possible, maintain a distance of at least six feet between yourself and your buddy if your buddy is not a part of your household. This will help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Prepare NOW

The most important actions you can take to survive an avalanche are done before it happens:

  • Learn about your local avalanche risk.
  • Sign up for alerts from a U.S. Forest Service Avalanche Center near you. Your community may also have a local warning system.
  • Learn the signs of an avalanche and how to use safety and rescue equipment.
  • Receive first aid training so you can recognize and treat suffocation, hypothermia, traumatic injury and shock.
  • Travel with a guide who knows which locations to avoid. Always travel in pairs.
    • When possible, maintain a distance of at least six feet between yourself and those who are note a part of your household. This will help slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • Follow avalanche warnings on roads. Roads may be closed, or vehicles may be advised not to stop on the roadside.
  • Avoid areas of increased risk, such as slopes steeper than 30 degrees or areas under steep slopes.
  • Know the signs of increased danger, including recent avalanches and shooting cracks across slopes.
  • Wear a helmet to help reduce head injuries and create air pockets.
  • Masks may make it difficult to breathe while performing high intensity activities or if you become trapped during an avalanche. Remove your mask if you are having difficulty breathing.
  • Wear an avalanche beacon to help rescuers locate you.
  • Use an avalanche airbag that may help you from being completely buried.
  • Carry a collapsible avalanche probe and a small shovel to help rescue others.

Survive DURING

  • Use and carry safety equipment and rescue gear.
  • If your partner or others are buried, call 9-1-1 and then begin to search if it is safe to do so.
  • If you have the proper training, treat others for suffocation, hypothermia, traumatic injury or shock.
    • Some first aid activities may increase the likelihood of the spread of COVID-19 because they require close contact between two people. Follow guidelines from the Red Cross on how to perform a breathing assessment and rescue breaths in children or adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • If you are experiencing a medical emergency and are able to call 9-1-1, let the operator know if you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If you can, put on a mask before help arrives.


Know the signs and ways to treat hypothermia.

  • Hypothermia is an unusually low body temperature. A body temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency.
    • Signs: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.
    • Actions: Go to a warm room or shelter. Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head and groin. Keep the person dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck.
  • Engage virtually with your community through video and phone calls. Know that it’s normal to feel anxious or stressed. Take care of your body and talk to someone if you are feeling upset. Many people may already feel fear and anxiety about the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). The threat of an avalanche can add additional stress. Follow CDC guidance for managing stress during a traumatic event and managing stress during COVID-19.

Associated Content

Last Updated: 01/07/2021