People caught in avalanches can die from suffocation, trauma, or hypothermia. On average, 28 people die in avalanches every winter in the United States. An avalanche is a large amount of snow moving quickly down a mountain, typically on slopes of 30–45 degrees. When an avalanche stops, the snow becomes solid, like concrete, and people are unable to dig out. Avalanches can:
- Be caused by people, new snow, and wind;
- Move at speeds of 60-80 MPH; and
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 on which you can rely.
- 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, and learn how to use safety and rescue equipment
- Travel with a guide who knows which locations to avoid. Always travel in pairs.
- 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.
- 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.
- The most important actions you can take to survive an avalanche are taken before it happens:
- Know the conditions:
- Avoid locations where there is danger of an avalanche.
- Always travel in pairs; and
- Use and carry safety equipment and rescue gear;
- Get the training;
- Check for and listen to alerts;
- If your partner or others are buried, call 911 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.
Be Safe AFTER
- 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.