In the last 10 winters, an average of 28 people have died in avalanches each year in the United States, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). Avalanche expert and CAIC director Ethan Greene spoke with “Nightline” about the dangers of avalanches and offered his advice for staying safe when out in the winter elements.
By ETHAN GREENE
Traveling through backcountry, wilderness areas in the winter has become a popular pastime. Whether you’re climbing, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, or just playing in the snow, you need to be prepared so you can both have fun and come home safe.
Here three things you can do to make sure you have a great day in the snow.
Know the Current Conditions: Just like planning a summer day in the mountain or a picnic in the park, you’re going to have more fun if you know what conditions you’ll face during the day.
Make sure you get a current weather forecast (www.weather.gov) and if you are going into avalanche terrain, you need to get the current avalanche forecast (www.avalanche.org). This way you’ll know what equipment to bring and also what avalanche conditions to expect. Being prepared is the best way to ensure you have a great day in the mountains.
Know What to Do: You have probably spent years perfecting your travel skills, making sure you’re ready to charge down that steep slope or climb high on your snow machine. Take a little time to make sure you know how to avoid getting caught in an avalanche. There are lots of ways to do this. It can be as simple as an online tutorial (I recommend two: USFS National Avalanche Center and Canadian Avalanche Center), or reading a book (I recommend “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain” or “Snow Sense“).
If you are going to spend a lot of time in avalanche country, you can take a class that get’s you out into the snow (go to the American Avalanche Association or American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education‘s websites for more information).
Carry Essential Equipment: You have a best chance of having a great backcountry trip if you are prepared for the challenges you might face. For winter outings, this includes being ready for an avalanche rescue in case something goes drastically wrong.
Each member of the party needs to carry (and know how to use) three pieces of equipment:
1. Avalanche rescue beacon — this is a device that both transmits and receives a radio signal. If one person is buried in an avalanche, the rest of the group can use this device to locate them.
2. Probe pole — The most time consuming portion of a rescue is digging. You can use a probe pole to pinpoint the victim’s location before you start to dig.
3. Shovel — You’ll need a good, strong shovel, to dig your friend out of the dense avalanche debris.
Other avalanche rescue devices include a RECCO reflector, avalanche airbag, or an Avalung. In addition to being ready for an avalanche, make sure you have extra clothing, food, water, a first-aid kit, and a repair kit for your mode of travel.