HOW TO SURVIVE AN AVALANCHE
On the surface, the mountain looks different. Snow levels have risen and shifted like sand dunes, and now it’s quiet and still. That is the scariest part of being buried alive, because beneath that motionless surface could be a backcountry explorer suspended mannequin-stiff with minutes to live, their screams from a foot deep fainter than a whisper.
“Getting caught in an avalanche is like being pasted in concrete,” says Brian Lazer of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “It literally freezes solid around you.” He recounts his terrifying experience from 1995 while snowboarding Loveland Pass. Since then, Lazer has been a mountain guide for 12 years, and has gone on multiple avalanche rescues. Like most dangerous undertakings, the best precaution is checking local forecasts before heading out.
Even still, Mother Nature will throw out wild cards. Although survival rates of an avalanche fall drastically after 15 minutes—most people die of asphyxiation, if not trauma—there are several things you can do to better your chances. For one, don’t travel anywhere alone. Go with friends who are equally responsible, and that have some essential gear at hand, such as: a helmet, a transceiver to echolocate the area of the buried victim, a shovel and a probe to pinpoint the exact depth of said person.
“Your chances of surviving a burial more than six feet deep are very low,” Lazer says. But there have been exceptions. Many can get a head start and begin fleeing the moment you here a whomp sound and see cracks in the snow. It means you can now anticipate an avalanche. Sometimes they move as slow as lava or can clock in over 100 mph, but if you end up going for the ride, do everything to maintain your airway to “keep snow from packing down your throat.” Remember, you’ll only find yourself in these scenarios if you’ve ignored obvious indications like rapidly rising temperatures, so beef up your foresight—it may keep you on the surface.