glacier snowmobile travel 2

Snowmobile Glacier Travel Safety Tips from BCA Sled Ambassador Mike Buck

April 27, 2021

Glaciers are dangerous, but the risks can be mitigated with the proper safety equipment, training, and safe travel techniques. In these two videos, certified avalanche instructor Mike Buck brings us into the Alaska wilds with his glacier travel safety tips.

We couldn’t let this spring go by without sharing some of the spectacular Valdez snowmachiner footage from BCA sled ambassador Mike Buck. Glaciers are dangerous, but the risks can be mitigated with the proper safety equipment, avalanche education, and safe travel techniques. In these two videos, certified avalanche instructor Mike Buck brings us into the Alaska wilds with his snowmobile glacier travel safety tips. Watch as he shares the precautions to take--and the rewards of exploring Alaska at its best.

Spring glacier avalanche hazards are often variable.

  • Crevasse danger zones are found on steep elevation change with convex terrain
  • Constantly scan for holes and avoiding thin snow zones
  • Follow ice compression zones and avoid expansion zones.
  • Give Ice Falls a wide berth
  • Be cautious of bergschrunds at the top of steep ridges and saddles.
  • Stop WELL BACK from cornice edges.
  • Wait, what – a lynx, up there....?

Good terrain selection when riding out on glaciers is crucial.

  • Medial moraines are often lower crevasse danger zones.
  • Valley glaciers can often have very safe crevasse-free zones.

Glacier travel safety gear to carry.

One hundred fifty miles are common rides for Mike Buck and crew on long spring days. When out riding on a glacier in Alaska, you need some essential rescue gear.

There are really no traveling protocols when snowmobiling out on glaciers, so it is a high-risk activity. That’s why it is so important to get training on how to use your gear to rescue someone if needed.

Armed with ropes and glacier rescue gear, Mike shows you in this video how to:

  • Have the gear and know-how to use it.
  • Travel safe and know how to rescue your partner.

First and foremost, you should always be wearing a harness when traveling on a glacier, a regular mountaineering-style harness, so if you do fall into a crevasse, somebody can drop down a rope to you to rescue you.

You want to have a few pieces of critical equipment attached to your harness.

  • Ascending devices: You want to have an ascending device on you, so if you fall into a crevasse, someone can throw a rope down to you, and you can clip into that rope and climb out by yourself.
  • Descending devices: You also want to have equipment on you, so if you have a partner fall into a crevasse, you can deploy rope and rappel down into that crevasse in less than two minutes.
  • Equipment Rescue Bag: Carry a dry bag on the back of your snowmachine with 120 feet of 8-millimeter static rope in a rescue bag, extra carabiners, pulleys, prusiks loops, and webbing straps so that you can quickly set up an anchor on the bumper of your snowmobile and use to rescue someone from a crevasse. Have your dry bag easily accessible with a quick-release ratchet strap. This equipment comes in handy if you ever need to pull a sled out of a ditch or creek, too.

A lot of times, when someone falls into a crevasse, they become injured. They could be in a situation where their chest is compressed between the ice because of the narrowing of the crevasse. Or they could be completely covered by snow that has fallen on top of them in the crevasse. So you have to be able to respond quickly if someone is injured and cannot help themselves out of the crevasse and administer first aid.

Unfortunately, in Alaska, many people have ridden out on glaciers, fallen into crevasses, and lost their lives. Glacier travel is a very serious activity, and you don’t want to take it lightly. The top glacier travel safety tip is to get the proper riding, safety, and rescue training before you go out on the glacier and carry the proper gear. It’s like going into avalanche terrain with a beacon, probe, and shovel, and this is the equipment you must have every time you go out there. When you go out on a glacier, you should be wearing a harness, have ascending and descending devices attached to your harness, and have your equipment rescue bag attached to your snowmachine. Be safe out there, and watch, like, and share more of Mike’s AK Sled Shed YouTube videos.

+   +   +

Mike Buck is a certified avalanche instructor and Backcountry Safety Education Contractor for the Alaska Avalanche Information Center. With his leadership and knowledge, he can rip a sled safely and in style. Mike has traveled more than 100,000 miles across Alaska by snowmobile.

bca sled ambassador mike buck