Friendly Reminder: Avalanches are Still a Threat in Colorado
With all the recent talk about the extreme snow we've had in Colorado this year, we often forget to talk about one of the more dangerous hazards of mountain snow: the avalanche. Despite the positive connection to our Stanley Cup Champions, an avalanche is also an often-overlooked danger in the mountains of Colorado. In a lot of cases, at least in my experience, avalanches can happen without you ever even hearing about them.
Case in point: 2 people were recently killed in two separate avalanches that happened over the same weekend; one out near Marble, the other in the Aspen Highlands area. So far this year, nine people have been killed in Colorado avalanches, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and on average, about 27 people have died over the last decade.
Want to survive an avalanche? Be prepared.
So, what should you do if you happen to get caught in an avalanche? Well, experts say that the best way to survive an avalanche is to not get caught in one in the first place, proving once and for all that everyone has jokes at the worst possible time.
In more helpful advice, they suggest looking up precautionary information, such as recent weather and any other avalanches that may have just occurred, before heading into the backcountry during avalanche season. You may also want to get familiar with the terms 'whumpfing' and 'shooting cracks', because you're definitely going to want to be on the lookout for those.
Yes, that is a real word, if you can believe it, and it refers to the sound that weak snow makes when it collapses. Ski over it, and you could trigger what experts say is an auditory clue to get the heck out of there. Where a 'whumpf' is the sound of imminent danger, 'shooting cracks' would be their visual equivalent. I feel like this goes without saying, but if you can see hundreds-feet-long cracks in the snow where you're standing, then you should probably be standing somewhere else as soon as possible.
Check your gear.
Since we're still in prep-mode, make sure you have the right gear ready to go before you head out. You don't want to get caught in an avalanche without an avalanche safety pack; consisting of a rescue beacon (also known as an avalanche transceiver), a snow probe and a collapsible shovel, an airbag, and an apparatus called an Avalung to help pull oxygen from the snowpack. That might not sound like a lot, but literally every item in that safety pack could mean the difference between life and death.
When all else fails...
Again, the best defense against an avalanche is avoidance, but if you end up getting stuck in one, there are still some in-the-moment tips that could help save your life. The absolute first thing you should do if you're on skis, a snowboard, or any snowfaring vehicle, is to get downhill and off that slab as soon as possible. If you have the chance, make sure to veer as far out of the direct slide path as you can.
If you're on foot, now is the time to activate that airbag. Grab a tree if you can, but you can also try to 'swim' your way out. The biggest thing here is to move around and thrash as much as possible, so as to keep you closer to the surface.
This is just a down and dirty, quick rundown of how you can be prepared for an avalanche. ColoradoInfo.com has even more tips that could keep you alive, despite the mountain's best efforts, so make sure you study up. A little preparation now can save you a whole lot of, you know, being dead in the future.