Avalanche Safety Tips
The most important item on your spring skiing backcountry checklist
The key to avoiding avalanches is avoiding terrain where avalanches can occur. Avalanche terrain is any slope steeper than 30 degrees. It doesn’t matter if it is a big slope or a very small slope. It doesn’t matter if it is an open slope or one with trees. If it is steeper than 30 degrees, it can produce an avalanche.
These slopes have a similar steepness to expert, black diamond runs, and some intermediate, blue square runs at ski areas. Even if you are on a less steep slope, it is considered avalanche terrain if it is connected to a steeper slope above. Avalanches have caught many people because they were underneath avalanche terrain in a runout zone (the place where avalanche debris typically comes to rest).
Avalanches do not occur every day. Some days are safe from avalanches and some are not. In general, most avalanches occur during storms or during the 24-48 hours following one. Because avalanche conditions can change rapidly from one day to the next, check current conditions and get avalanche danger ratings from a regional avalanche center. You can find a list of these avalanche centers at www.avalanche.org.
If you choose to enter avalanche terrain, there are many factors to consider. The best way to learn about these factors is to take an avalanche class. The National Avalanche Center offers a good online tutorial at www.fsavalanche.org and www.avalanche.org offers a listing of avalanche training providers.
Whether you are an avalanche novice or expert, follow these three rules in avalanche terrain.
1. Never travel alone. Allow only one person at a time to cross avalanche terrain while others wait in a safe location.
2. Make sure everyone carries avalanche rescue gear and knows how to use it.
3. Finally, look for recent avalanches, which indicate the snow is unstable.
Your time in the snow should be safe and fun if you follow these tips closely!