Avalanche Avoidance – Backcountry Basics

  • Get the Gear

    Before you head into the backcountry:  

    1. Carry all required items, on your body, all the time to help you find a buried partner and be found

    • Avalanche transceiver – turned on!
    • Avalanche probe
    • Avalanche shovel

    2. Consider carrying the following:

    • Avalanche airbag to increase your chances of staying on top of an avalanche
    • Navigation Kit to help move efficiently and avoid anticipated hazardous terrain; consider terrain photos, map and gps or smartphone
    • Radios to help you and your partners communicate
    • Emergency Kit, including: First aid kit, portable shelter and evacuation kit to help you survive an injury in winter conditions
    • Cell phone, Sat phone or Personal Locator Beacon to call for help

    3. Practice with your gear regularly. Seconds count and your gear only works when you can use it confidently and efficiently in bad conditions

    • Remember that your gear helps you have a safer and more fun day – it does not guarantee your safety
  • Get the Training

    Before you head into the backcountry:
    1. Take an avalanche course and learn the basics of:

    • How different kinds of avalanches occur
    • How terrain choices and changing weather impact your safety
    • How to travel in avalanche terrain to minimize your risk
    • How to make smart decisions as a group
    • How to rescue one or more buried people
    • How your actions can impact the safety of other groups

    2. Learn how to provide first aid to an injured member of your party

    3. Keep your skills current

    • Practice with your friends
    • Read what experts have to say
    • Study accident reports to learn from other’s mistakes
    • Refresh your avalanche course
  • Get the Forecast (Advisory)

    The Daily Routine:

    1. First thing in the morning, check your local avalanche center website and click the map or regional link to get your local avalanche advisory.

    2. Identify the avalanche problems you expect to find and where you would anticipate finding them in the terrain

    Check Local Conditions

  • Get the Picture

    The Daily Routine:

    1. Research your route – review terrain photos, maps and reports from others to anticipate dangerous terrain and where to get the best snow

    2. Plan to avoid the current avalanche problems:

    • Identify terrain to avoid for the day – mark it on your terrain imagery so you won’t be tempted
    • Create a list of desirable terrain options where you expect to find the goods – use the terrain imagery to make sure you wind up in the right place
    • Note where you expect to make key decision for the day – mark it on your terrain imagery so you’ll remember to regroup
    • Let someone know where you plan to go and when you plan to return
    • Stay out of the way of any avalanche mitigation planned for where you intend to ride
    • Anticipate and look for signs of hazardous or changing conditions in the field

    3. Recent avalanche activity

    • Changing or significant wind, snowfall, temperature
    • Cracking or collapsing snow
    • Recent wind deposited snow

    4. Communicate within your group

    • Is anyone outside their comfort zone?
    • Talk specifically about the terrain ahead, exposure to hazards and your plan to avoid the problems
  • Get out of Harm’s Way

    The Daily Routine:

    1. Limit your group’s exposure to dangerous terrain

    2. Discuss the consequence of traveling on a slope before committing, avoid terrain traps

    3. Place only one person on a suspect slope at a time

    • Don’t help a buddy find a lost ski or get unstuck in hazardous terrain
    • Cross or ride suspect slopes one at a time

    4. Stay in contact with one another

    • Voice
    • Visual

    5. Don’t stop in an area exposed to avalanche hazard

    6. Don’t enter a closed area or any place undergoing control work

    7. Minimize your impacts on others – be aware of:

    • Groups above you
    • Groups below you
    • Roads & buildings below you
    • Control work nearby

    8. Never intentionally trigger an avalanche unless you are sure the area below is clear

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