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Roger Weller, geology instructor                     

Caitlin Kelly
Physical Geology
Spring 2009


                                      Beware of the Avalanche

Hiking up or along a snowy mountain and you suddenly see a large mass of snow or ice detached from a mountain slope and sliding or falling suddenly downward towards or near you, try not to panic itís an avalanche.

avalanche.jpg Avalanche image by DragonsVenganace


            If you are planning a trip where there is snow on a slope you should with out a doubt plan ahead. This website it provides valuable information. Like where you can find avalanche courses, where recent avalanches have taken places and the injuries that have been recorded due to avalanches. You also donít want to find yourself running from an avalanche with no prior knowledge as to what to do or how you could of prevented it. When hiking you must recognize the helpful tips and warning signs there might be an avalanche. You really want to avoid unstable snow, you need to watch the temperature drastic changes are not good, and just because there was one avalanche that does not mean that there canít be another. There are also way to identify avalanche terrain, like in these diagrams.

ďSlope diagram: Avalanches are possible on any slope steeper than 30 degrees and occur most frequently on slopes 35 to 50 degrees.  Most expert ski runs have sections steeper than 35 degrees." (

AvalancheAasgaardFjelletUpperReinda.jpg picture by poohbear14

ďTerrain traps: Anything that increases the consequences of being caught in a slide. " (

02-03-0920Result20of20Afternoon2-1.jpg picture by poohbear14

ďCommon Trigger points: Under certain conditions avalanches may be trigger from flatter areas in the run out zone or along ridge crests." (

avalanche1-788336-1.jpg picture by poohbear14

ďAspect: Which way does the slope face in relation to sun, wind? Avalanche problems many only exist on certain aspects." (

snowy_mountain-1.jpg picture by poohbear14

            When traveling you want to have safe protocols, some to keep in mind is never have more than one person exposed to an avalanche danger at a time. You want to stay spread out, only have one person on a slope at a time, and you never want to be directly above a partner or group on the slope. Another protocol is try and be cautious to changing snow stability due to changes in aspect, elevation, or weather factors (heavy precipitation, wind, or warming). Something that helps is being in communication with your group, and always be prepared to do a rescue with proper supplies and training.

            The best defense to surviving an avalanche is to see the warning signs and avoid getting caught in an avalanche and know that 25%-30% of fatalities are due to trauma during the slide. If you get completely buried, the odds for survival are only 30%, but if you find yourself caught in an avalanche attempt to get off the slab, hang onto the downhill side of trees-angle to get to the edge of the slide. Keep your mouth closed so you wonít choke on the snow, and attempt to roll onto your back with feet downhill. Swim hard, fight, grab trees, and dig into the bed surface you want to move around before the snow stops moving to give you room. As the avalanche slows or even before, thrust some part of your body above the surface and try to make airspace around your mouth and keep something above the snow if you can to help others find you. If you happen to be completely buried you can dribble spit out of your mouth so you can determine which way is up verses down and all you can really do is, attempt to remain calm you life is in the hands of your partners and try not to panic so you can conserve your oxygen. ( (

If you traveling and your partner or you see a person caught in an avalanche you donít have time to go for help, you really only have an opening of 15 minutes for a good chance to recover someone alive. Try and yell to alert others, and watch the victim so you can get a feel for where that person last was. Make sure itís also safe for you, you donít want to be a victim yourself, and you need to have a plan. Conduct a search probe around the surface and find the person and start digging. When this happens you need to be prepared to perform first aid and possibly stay overnight. There is no doubt it is critical to practice rescues before you are faced with the real thing.

Avalanches can be an amazing sight to see but they can also be very horrifying. All of these points are very important, in recent years avalanche deaths have been raising so far from 08-09 in the United States and in Canada there have been 54 lives taken. Never go where you donít know what you could be getting into all of these deaths could have been prevented in one way. Remember to always be prepared with tools, training and a group or partner. The worst thing you can do is be alone. 

avalanche.jpg Avalanche image by Louvaen