We’ve all seen them in the movies – massive tsunamis of snow plummeting after the main protagonist, consuming all the slower, unnamed henchmen in its wake. But not all of us can ski like James Bond. If a regular person – a henchman even – is caught in an avalanche, what are we to do?
If you don’t have access to avalanche forecasts, I have good news. Avalanche Canada has a special tool designed to rate the danger of your area. Based on recent weather and geography, they named it the Dangerator – easily the best name for a safety program I’ve ever seen. Use their video to learn how to spot potential avalanche dangers and avoid them. Avalanche Canada also provides courses and training for avalanche avoidance and survival.
Pre-trip planning is often overlooked but it’s the simplest way to minimize your risks of a Bond-style snowtastrophe. Look into weather conditions expected before and during your planned trip. Research your planned route and take note of avalanche forecasts. Decide carefully on the companions you want to travel with and know their backcountry experience. Be sure of the gear you’ll need and whether a self-guided or group expedition would best suit your needs.
Last but not least, don’t forget to let people at home know your itinerary. Should you not arrive back home on schedule, they can alert authorities immediately.
All major hikes begin at a trailhead, whether it’s marked or just the agreed ‘starting point’ for your journey. This is a good time to do one last check on gear, conditions and human factors.
Be sure that everyone has the individual gear they need. Take care to ensure that the group is well equipped with any communal items. Everyone should know who is carrying which communal items in case they are needed in a hurry. The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides has a great gear checklist here.
Double check that the weather and avalanche forecasts are consistent with what you’re seeing and that your information is recent. Think through how the weather will affect any avalanche risks.
Sometimes not everyone is ready for the same hike. Be sure the group understands what the risk factors of the trail are – they must be comfortable taking on these risks. If there is a broad range of experience in the group, it may be wise to implement a buddy system between veterans and newbies. Be sure that everyone takes safety seriously – the last thing anyone wants is to get into serious trouble because one goofball ignored protocol.
Do your best to keep out of the snow’s path. If that’s not possible and you are caught up in the snow, try either of the following: use swimming motions to stay near the top or grab a tree to avoid being swept away. As the snow slows down, cover your face with your arm or hands to create an air pocket. If things settle, and you don’t know which way is up (we’ve all been there) – spit, it will always fall downwards. There is gear that can help you stay afloat in snow or be visible to rescuers. Inflating jackets, avalanche cords and trackers are all great additions to your winter hiking kit.
Hikers can’t wait for search and rescue when a member of their troupe is buried. They need to initiate a rescue immediately. There are courses that train in the proper procedures. In addition, there are avalanche poles, collapsing shovels and tracking devices that can help. However, for those of us who just want to read a simple internet article, there’s good old Wikihow.
There is so much to learn about avalanches and safe conduct around them. We’ve barely covered the tip of the iceberg! If you are going for a winter hike, and not just reading for curiosities sake, I highly recommend spending time on the above linked websites (okay, maybe don’t spend too long on Wikihow). They both have oodles of great information compiled by seasoned experts.
If you’re looking for a start to your hiking supplies, we offer a variety of first aid kits, perfect for any situation. Thanks for reading!
This article was written by Zenia Platten – Author and emergency preparedness professional.