Basic Avalanche Safety Tips | 3 Dead-Set Rules!

by Lucas Rocksvold

Guest Post: This article was brought to you by one of our trusty guest authors. Strap in and prepare to learn some basic avalanche safety tips. Take it away Lucas. 

Bottom line: Avalanches are Unpredictable!

There has been a lot of scientific study on the subject of avalanche prediction, prevention, and avoidance. Bottom line, snow slides do not follow rules. 

There is an old saying in the backcountry community, “all the avalanche experts are dead”. 

I once contacted the foremost expert in Jackson Hole about a peak I was considering summiting and riding. He gave me some great information, nice guy. 6-months later he was dead, buried in an avalanche on the peak I was looking into.

On another occasion one of my group started an avalanche on a descent of an area that looked completely safe. Surprise, the rock hard snow we were on broke and almost killed him. There were no other slides in the area and forecasts had low hazard for the slopes we were on.

basic avalanche safety tips
Slab avalanche, captured by Lucas.

If you are going to travel in avalanche terrain you must accept the risk of losing your life and the lives of others.

Yep, it is that serious. 

However, certain safety habits and dead-set rules can minimize these risks. Here are some basic avalanche safety tips. 

Rule #1 - Do Not Go Alone

We have all heard the story of a guy cutting his own arm off when he got trapped, alone.   That situation should never have happened. 

Your only hope of survival may depend on your company. No bickering when such important decisions are made. Every person in the group must be clear about the plan. 

If you think someone is being overly cautious, listen, talk and review. The mountain isn’t going anywhere, there will be another day. Turning back is not a defeat. If you’re alive, it’s a victory.

Rule #2 - Do The Research

Many areas have dedicated avalanche forecast centers, not always though. The info you gather from such places is valuable, but should not be considered complete. Making contact with people who have recent knowledge of the snow-pack is a good idea.

If the terrain is near a ski area, the ski-patrol can be a big help. I have found they are usually glad to share their insight. 

Look at similar slopes nearby. What has slid recently, what aspect, what elevation, what temp?

Digging a sample avy pit is educational and fun. That is a big subject by itself, do some research, do it safely. 

Talk to the locals. Its easy to strike up a conversation and get valuable info. Learn from others mistakes. A very common slope we used to ride has killed many people in the past, and will kill more in the future. 

Check past articles about avalanche casualties in the area. It will help to keep you from jumping into something that looks so awesome that it can’t wait. 

Rule #3 - Minimize Exposure Risks

Safe back-country travel is a big subject also. But we will go over some basics…

If you have to cross avalanche terrain, do it one at a time and do it quickly. Move from one safe zone to another safe zone. Many avalanche disasters happen when the party is ascending. 

Danger zones can change quickly with wind and temp. I have always loved riding in the trees. Slides can happen in the forest. Although rare, it only takes a small clearing to start up, gain momentum and take the whole slope. 

Look out for terrain traps. Places where you cannot ride out of quickly. Gullys and depressions are dangerous. A slide could start far away and bury you without notice if you are in a run-out area such as a creek bed.

Try to stay above low areas. The less time you spend in questionable areas the better. It’s a lot of science and luck, air on the side of caution. 

Final Thoughts

Here we go! The amount of spectacular riding in the backcountry is unlimited. The freedom from lifts and lift tickets is great. But make serious decisions about what is an acceptable risk, and what is not. 

Be clear, be concise, be informed. 

Share your info with others, we’re in this together. 

Knowledge weighs nothing, carry a ton of it. 

Stay sharp, stay safe, stay alive.

Now go get it!

Pst… Make sure you have a well-rated avalanche beacon and have read our handy snowboarding guides here.

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slammy 01/01/2023 - 9:58 pm

So much to consider when in the back country, it goes to show you that all snow has the possibility to slide if it’s on a slope.

Fraser 02/01/2023 - 1:33 pm

Very true! Education and awareness is vital. Thanks for stopping by, Fraser


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