The days are becoming shorter and the anticipation for winter is circling through the air. With ski films dropping left and right, there’s no doubt we want to go charging into the hills as soon as they are covered in snow. But before we do so, let’s remember to refreshen those avalanche brains, especially if you plan on skiing or riding out of bounds.
In the 2014-2015 season there were 11 fatalities due to avalanches in the United States. Although this is far lower than the 35 fatalities from the previous season, there are still lessons from these accidents that we can learn from.
On average 27 people die in avalanche each year in the USA.
- In 1 case, the party was in terrain just outside of resort boundaries.
- In 3 of the cases, at least one person in the party was not wearing a beacon nor had avalanche rescue equipment.
- In 3 of the cases, parties felt uncomfortable with the conditions but continued on.
- In 7 of the cases, parties were on slopes that were 37 degrees or steeper (prime avalanche terrain).
- In at least 8 of the cases, the parties were experienced backcountry travelers.
- Make sure that you and everyone in your party has a beacon, shovel, probe and knows how to use them. 90% of avalanche victims survive a burial of 10 minutes or less. Chances of survival decreases exponentially after that. Never travel alone.
- Check your local avalanche bulletin and know when it is unsafe to travel on steep slopes. Learn how to travel in avalanche terrain and avoid things such as terrain traps.
- Approach the sidecountry the same way you do the backcountry. Once you are outside of a resort’s boundaries, you are in avalanche terrain.
- Don’t ignore the red flags. Previous experience in an area or seeing other peoples’ tracks can give you a false sense of security. Don’t be afraid to turn around. Deciding not to ski is never the wrong decision. The mountains make the rules and even the most experienced backcountry travelers can become victims. All it takes is one mistake. We must do our best to reduce the risks so that we can live to shred another day.