Avalanche: Averting Danger, Tips for Survival

Record snows in the American West this winter have unleashed a near-record number of deadly avalanches, killing 30 people.

Avalanches are caused when heavy new snow piles on top of a weaker lower layer. The pitch of a mountain is also a critical factor: A 30- to 50-degree angle is the most dangerous. In addition, strong winds that drive blowing snow can help provide the perfect conditions for a dangerous slide.

"Good Morning America" meteorologist Sam Champion visited Steamboat Springs, Colo., to find out what is being done to prevent avalanches and what to do if you find yourself caught in one.


Steamboat Springs has had the most snow on record in the past three months. While skiers enjoy epic conditions, the avalanche crew is working overtime to keep them safe.

Once unstable snow is identified, the next step is to get rid of it. Mountain experts use dynamite to blow it up. Typically, they use a device made of four pounds of dynamite, which they ignite by hand and then toss into areas of dangerously piled snow.

The boom of the dynamite then shakes loose the heavy snow before it can do any damage in an uncontrolled slide.

Contrary to popular belief, sound does not trigger avalanches.

Most are actually caused by people, often skiers, snowmobiles or climbers, venturing onto unstable snow.

What You Can Do

If buried, the best chances for survival are within the first 15 to 30 minutes. The most important thing is to carry a transmitter device to help locate a buried victim.

If you find yourself caught in an avalanche, "use swimming motions, thrusting upward to try to stay near the surface of the snow. When avalanches come to a stop and debris begins to pile up, the snow can set as hard as cement," the National Center for Snow and Ice says.

Safety experts also recommend trying to put your hands in front of your face to create an air space, and trying your best to remain calm.

Click here to learn more about the dangers of avalanches and tips for surviving one from the National Center for Snow and Ice.

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