U.S. snowmobile avalanche fatalities report, winter 2018-19

BCA ambassador Mike Duffy of Avalanche1 gives us the report from this past season’s U.S. Snowmobile avalanche fatalities winter 2018-19.

It was an interesting year for snowmobile avalanche fatalities. Twenty plus years ago, most of the fatalities were due to not having avalanche gear. Avalanche transceivers, shovels and probes were not used by many riders. Today, if you ride without avalanche safety gear, you have very little chance of surviving a full burial or being able to pull off a successful rescue. Unfortunately, this was the problem that lead to the most fatalities in the U.S. last winter. Most of the fatalities may have be preventable if they had avalanche gear and avalanche training.

Summary of U.S. snowmobile avalanche fatalities winter 2018-19

  • U.S. Avalanche fatalities: 25
  • U.S. Snowbike fatalities: 0
  • U.S. Snowmobile avalanche fatalities: 8

Summary by State of U.S. snowmobile avalanche fatalities winter 2018-19

  • Utah – 3
  • Wyoming –  3
  • Montana – 1
  • Idaho – 1

Breakdown of U.S. snowmobile avalanche fatalities winter 2018-19

  • 63% of the victims were recovered by people outside the riding group.
  • 32% of the total US avalanche fatalities were snowmobilers.
  • 63% of the snowmobilers killed did not have a transceiver.
  • Midwest riders accounted for 25% of the snowmobile fatalities, while western riders were 75%.
  • 100% of the accidents were triggered by riders in the group.
  • All were single complete burials.
  • 100% of the fatal avalanches had a persistent weak layer.
  • 63% of the accidents had riders in the runout zone.
  • 25% of the victims had deployed an airbag.
  • Almost, if not all, of the riders lacked advanced avalanche training.

SnoWest reports that these snowmobile statistics are a definite contrast to winter 2017/18 when 18 percent of the victims did not have transceivers and 50 percent died from trauma. 

With some changes to how your snowmobile groups ride and train, you can avoid the misery of these accidents.

What can we do to avoid more snowmobile avalanche fatalities in the future?

  • Get advanced on-snow training for everyone in your group. You need more than “the basics.”
  • Get the gear: Avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe and airbag.
  • Realize that an airbag is used in conjunction with advanced training, educated decisions and good judgement. It’s not the end all for safety or a replacement for training.
  • Don’t park in the avalanche runout zone.

Learn and understand the riding that is appropriate for the different avalanche problems.

  • There are nine different kinds of avalanches. Some are very unpredictable, stability varies tremendously slope to slope and on the same slope.
  • Even if you ride in the mountains one week a year, get a GPS satellite messenger for your group. It’s the only reliable way to get help to your location.
  • Alter your riding terrain according to the danger.
  • Start taking avalanche classes and keep current on your training.
  • Practice with your gear. 
  • Speak up if you don’t agree with the terrain or the level of training.

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Sign up for an avalanche safety for mountain riders class this fall with Mike Duffy at Avalanche1.com.