Avalanche Safety for Mountain Riders
Understand, I did not write the following text, I submit it for information only:
EIGHT STEPS TO REDUCING YOUR AVALANCHE RISK
courtesy of Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation
1. Get smart! The smart first step is to learn from the avalanche experts. This will take a commitment of time and effort on your part. Divide the task into three parts. First, take an avalanche course. Second, check out the videos on avalanche safety. Third, do some reading.
2. Utilize specific state resources located at: WWW.AVALANCHE.ORG
Idaho• Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center (208) 622-8027
• Idaho Panhandle National Forests Avalanche Center (208) 765-7323
• Payette National Forest Avalanche Center (208) 634-0409
• Glacier Country Avalanche Center (406) 257-8204
• Gallatin national forest avalanche center (406) 587-6981
• West Central Avalanche Foundation (406) 329-3752
• Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center (307) 733-2664
3. Identify avalanche terrain. Avalanches run repeatedly year after year in the same areas -- slopes called avalanche paths. Avalanches most often start on slopes of 30-45 degrees but sometimes start on slopes as shallow as 25 degrees and as steep as 50 degrees. Knowing the slope angle is “rule number one” in recognizing avalanche terrain, for once slope angles reach 30 degrees you are in potential avalanche terrain regardless of all other factors.
4. Read nature’s signs. Sometimes the snow shows clear and present danger signs of avalanche. Some signs are a fresh avalanche, snow collapsing beneath you or creating noticeable cracks. Some weather signs that the hazard could be worsening fast are heavy snowfall -- more than one inch per hour -- or strong winds creating blowing snow and snow plumes off the ridges.
Keep observing and evaluating all day long. Keep asking yourself these four questions: Is the terrain capable of producing an avalanche? Could the snow slide? Is the weather contributing to instability? Is there a safer route?
5. Test the snow. Look for test slopes where you can dig snowpits and perform stress tests. A test slope is a small, steep slope -- preferably 30 degrees or steeper -- where you will not be in danger of causing an avalanche, but is close to a larger slope that you are concerned about. You can learn all about snowpits while attending Idaho Parks and Recreations Avalanche Awareness course.
6. Travel smart. There are several rules of backcountry travel that will help to minimize your avalanche risk. One at a time! Only one person at a time should go onto the slope.
Avoid the center. The greatest danger on any steep slope comes when you are in the middle of it. Stay on shallow slopes. You can always travel on avalanche-free slopes up to 25 degrees.
Never ride alone.
7. Take your pulse. In other words, check your attitude. It can get you in trouble. Are you so goal-oriented -- to climb this peak or highmark that slope -- that you are willing to take unwarranted risk? Do not overlook clear and present danger signs! Do not fall into peer pressure! Are you letting haste or fatigue get you in trouble? To prevent accidents from happening, you must control the human factor in your decision-making. Know your limitations.
8. Be ready for rescue. There are three parts to the rescue equation that will reduce your risk: what equipment to carry, what to do if you are caught, and what to do if a friend is caught.
Anything steeper than 25 degrees can avalanche, but prime time slopes are 30-45 degrees, the same slopes most of us like to play on. You don’t have to be on a steep slope to make it avalanche, you just have to be connected to it.
Highmarking accounts for more than 60% of the avalanche deaths involving snowmachiners.
Tracks do not mean that a slope is safe. TIMING IS EVERYTHING! You can play safely on steep slopes ONLY when snowpack is stable.
If you like to highmark, adopting the following habits will help keep you and the members of your group alive:
Stay alert for clues to instability, even while driving to the trailhead. Ride your sled onto small cutbanks to test snow stability. Periodically STOP your machine, remove your helmet, walk around to get a feel for the snow, and scan the area. If the snow is unstable, you should notice one or more of the following clues:
• Recent avalanches - (don't play on similar, unreleased slopes)
• New snow or wind-loading - (may be your only clue)
• Rain (weakens snow quickly, will stabilize when refrozen)
• Whumphinq noises (indicate the collapse of a buried weak layer)
• Shooting cracks - (indicate snow is ripe for fracturing)
• Hollow-sounding snow - (indicates a buried weak layer)
• Signs of rapid or intense warming - (snow will weaken quickly)
Cornices are overhanging deposits of wind-drifted snow that form along the leeward side of ridgecrests and gullies. Additional new snow, wind loading, warming, or the weight of a person or sled causes cornice breaks. If you like to jump cornices, know that even if you don’t break the cornice the landing shock-loads the slope (like detonating a bomb) and can trigger an avalanche.
Bottom-line: Do not approach cornices from the bottom or ride on slopes that are overhung by cornices.
When approaching any ridge, slow down, think cornice, and make sure you are riding, parking, or standing on snow that has solid ground beneath it. Many riders have been fooled by bushes because these sometimes extend through the cornice from the slope below.
The best defense in to not get caught, educate yourself and the individuals you recreate with by attending a free avalanche awareness course offered by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.
You do not have time to go for help. YOU ARE THE HELP!
IF YOU ARE CAUGHT:
1. Try to ride to the side and stay on your machine. If knocked off your sled, push away from it to reduce your chances of being injured and FIGHT HARD to stay on top of the moving snow by “swimming.”
2. Attempt to roll onto your back; you have a better chance of survival if buried face up.
3. As the avalanche slows, thrust some part of your body above the surface. Expand your chest and use your arm to create an airspace in front of your face.
4. Try not to panic so that you will use oxygen at a slower rate and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering your lungs.
IF YOU ARE A RESCUER:
Watch the victim! Establish the last seen area.
1. If you did not observe the slide, question any witnesses about the number of victims, their last seen locations, and whether or not the victims were wearing beacons.
2. Make sure it is safe to search.
3. Conduct a thorough initial search of the debris below the last seen area.
4. Leave clues (including sleds) in place; they may help establish the victim’s line of travel.
5. If wearing avalanche beacons, conduct a beacon search (which you should have practiced many times before!) simultaneously with the initial search. Be sure all members of the search party have their beacons turned to receive!
6. If the victim is not located by any of these methods, systematically probe the most likely search area.
7. When you locate the victim, dig fast but carefully. Free the victim’s mouth and chest of snow first. It’s not over yet! Have first aid gear and be alert for airway problems, hypothermia, and injuries.
• Stop periodically to look for clues to instability and discuss the avalanche hazard.
• NEVER travel above a stuck rider.
• Each rider should wear a transmitting avalanche beacon and carry a probe and shovel in a small pack.
• Ride with your helmet securely strapped.
• Assumptions can kill you. Avalanches don’t care what you want to do or how skilled a rider you are.
Remember that you can have fun even on unstable days by staying away from steep slopes.
Good resource for online Avalanche Educational Material
Watch this video as well...
This is a good sticky post for mountain riders.
Any of you thinking of coming out west to ride, don't forget your beacons, probes, and strong shovel. And make sure your buddies have them too.
I have to see if you can rent in Kremmling... if not it will be on my list of things to buy since I plan to ride out west a lot more.
I'll be bringing at least 1 spare, maybe as many as 3 spares if my son bails and heads back south for the winter......have to see on his 2 beacons. My wife is definitely going south to spend the winter, so hers will be my spare. Ditto for her RMK again this year, it'll be my backup if needed. Guess I better get those bars straightened/replaced.......lol.
Chances of using this gear is dependant on how/where you ride and the chances you are willing to take. I'll have mine operational and would appreciate those I'm riding with doing the same.
Yeah and that ridge/cornice looks alot like one of the areas we played on practically every ride..... Cornice may have been bigger, but looks like same degree of slope.
Also, just because a slope has slid don't be tricked into thinking it can't slide again. these things are nothing to mess with. They might look like nice fluffy snow rolling down hill on video, I have seen some chunks of snow from slides that are the size of a pick-up truck. Don't worry about suffocating, you most likely be dead from debris in bigger slides so be careful.
Here's another good link for an online Avy Course ....
Text below is another article I found and though I would share:
WHY HIGHMARK KILLS
by Doug Fesler and Jill Fredston*
Doug Fesler and Jill Fredston, both avalanche specialists, are Co-Directors of the non- profit Alaska Mountain Safety Center, Inc and the Alaska Avalanche School.
Highmark, the challenge of riding a snowmachine as high as possible on the side of a steep, snow-filled mountain is great fun that requires skill. But if you climb a slope from the bottom without first assessing the snow stability, you are playing a game of Russian roulette which has already killed too many snowmachiners. It's unlikely that you'd cross a busy highway blindfolded. The bottom line is that when you're traveling in avalanche country, you need to take off the blinders and think like an avalanche. If not, the Snow Dragon may thrash you. Here's why:
Avalanches are not random events. They occur as a result of the interaction between terrain, snowpack, weather, and, often, people. More than 95% of the avalanches catching backcountry recreationists are triggered by people. Most of the time, it is our weight on or near steep slopes that causes the problem.
Each snowstorm and wind event during the winter deposits a layer of snow. Over time, these layers change. Some become stronger in response to settlement or compaction, while others grow weaker. Potential for slab avalanches, the kind of avalanche dragon catching most people, exists when relatively strong, cohesive snow known as a slab overlies weaker snow or is not bonded well to the underlying layer.
Slabs can be made up of snow that is new or old, hard or soft, wet or dry. Weak layers come in a variety of types and thicknesses. Frequently sugary and fragile, they can be formed in shallow snowpacks or cold, clear weather, often weeks or months before the slope avalanches. The weak layer that killed the snowmachiner near Eureka Lodge began forming at the beginning of the winter.
Slabs fail initially as a unit and then break up into smaller blocks as the snow moves downslope. A slab avalanche becomes possible when the strength of the snowpack is nearly equal to the stress applied to it. Actual failure does not take place until the stress exerted equals the snowpack's strength.
Think of a pencil you're trying to break in half with your hands. Suppose that the breaking strength of the pencil requires 5 pounds of force. If you apply 4.9 pounds of force, the pencil becomes unstable. It bends, it creaks, but it doesn't break. Only when you apply 5 pounds of force or more, will it break in two. In order to cause the snowpack to avalanche, the amount of stress exerted on it must increase or its strength decrease, or both.
So what causes stress? The steeper the slope angle, the greater the stress on the slab, especially along the interface between the slab and weak layer underneath it. A slab is like a huge dinner plate lightly glued to a table. If you tilt the table on edge, the stress on the boundary regions of the plate increases. If you keep tilting the table steeper and steeper, the plate eventually slides off. This happens more easily on a smooth surface than a rough one. Avalanches need steep slopes in order to fail. Prime-time slopes are steeper than 30 degrees, especially slopes with angles in the high 30 s to mid 40 s range, the same ones highmarkers seek to test their skills. You don't have to be riding on a steep slope to cause failure, you just have to be connected to it. Five out of the six snowmobilers who died in Turnagain Pass a few weeks ago were traveling on relatively gentle terrain connected to steeper slopes above. The sixth was highmarking.
The second thing that causes stress is load such as the weight of new snow, rain, and wind-transported snow. The snowpack is only able to absorb a certain amount of stress and only at a limited rate of speed. All things being equal, the snowpack is better able to adjust to three feet of snow falling over several weeks than to three feet of snow falling overnight. Avalanches are more likely to occur in response to sudden changes such as heavy loading or intense warming than to changes which happen slowly.
Now, add yourself to the formula. Will the snowpack be able to adjust to the weight of a 600 or 700 lb. snowmachine and rider pounding up the hill? From the Snow Dragon's perspective, it may be time to pounce especially if you hit a trigger spot. These are localized areas of sensitive snow, places where buried weak layers are waiting like ticking time- bombs for someone to tip the balance on the scale, or places of increased stress. Trigger spots are typically found in areas of thinner snowcover, buried bushes or rocks, or below steep roll-overs. But steep slopes can be triggered from anywhere, when conditions are ripe.
The moment a snowmobiler hits a trigger spot, a chain reaction is set off which results in the immediate release of a tremendous amount of stored elastic energy -- like releasing a giant, stretched rubber band. The slab fails at all of its boundaries and the dinner plate slides off the table. Suddenly, the whole slope is in motion and the word "avalanche" begins to have a new meaning for the person caught. After years of avalanche accident investigations and discussions with the families of avalanche victims, we remember the words of an unknown ex-Viet Cong soldier poet every time we respond to the scene of an accident: "A bullet fired, for whatever reason, is first, a bullet to the heart of a mother."
IF YOU MUST PLAY HIGHMARK:
Recognize that highmarking is inherently risky because you are approaching steep slopes from the bottom with millions of pounds of snow hanging in balance above you.
Avoid highmarking on terrain steep enough to slide after recent storms or big dumps of snow. It may take days or even weeks for the snow to settle and strengthen.
Allow only one person on the slope at a time while all others observe from a safe distance. Be anti-social. Never travel above your partner. Never stop in an avalanche path. Never help someone get unstuck in an avalanche path as this increases the stress by doubling the weight. These are how most snowmachiner accidents happen.
Avoid slopes with terrain traps (dips, gullies, or holes) at the base of the run. These result in deep burials. Instead choose slopes with gentle runouts and no obstacles or hazards below.
Choose windward, that is, slopes that have been stripped or compacted by the wind over leeward slopes that have been loaded. Avoid corniced areas (overhanging deposits of windblown snow) that may break off. Favor slopes which have recently avalanched over those which have not yet slid.
Start by climbing less steep slopes with a similar orientation. Don't center-punch your run. Pick a trajectory which climbs out of the path rather than into it. Always think consequences. Which way are you going to run if the slope cuts loose?
Be alert for clues to instability including recent avalanches on similar slopes, recent new snow or wind-loading, "whumphing" noises indicating the collapse of a buried weak layer, hollow-sounding snow, and shooting cracks propagating around you in the snow. Your biggest clue may be recent weather events.
Pay attention. Keep your eyes and ears open, don't get complacent. You may travel for hours and not find your problem spot until the end of the day. Timing is everything. You can only travel on "red light" terrain when you have a "green light "snowpack.
Know that it is not unusual for snowmobilers to ride on a slope for more than an hour before it rips out. Previous tracks do not ensure that a slope is safe.
When in doubt, be conservative -- notch back your exposure and your slope angles. If you have a "travel to die" attitude, you probably will. Remember that the avalanche dragons don't care what you want to do or what you think. Check out your assumptions. Don't let your attitude get in the way of objective information. Do not be reassured just because it is a blue sky day, you are with a large group, you're wearing an avalanche beacon, there are tracks on the slope, or because you've traveled to a particular slope many times before.
Every group member should have a beacon, shovel, and probe - on the rider, not the machine. Know how and where to search. You do not have time to go for help, you are the help. Full face helmets are a good idea because they can provide a small air space to a buried victim. Be aware that most buried snowmachiners are found no more than 200 feet from their sleds, in roughly the same fall line. More often than not, they are upslope and within 40 feet of their machines.
* Doug Fesler and Jill Fredston, both avalanche specialists, are Co-Directors of the non- profit Alaska Mountain Safety Center, Inc and the Alaska Avalanche School.
You can visit the site HERE
Ok, I just read all of the Utah course on the link above. Now I am even more freaked out. How in the hell are you supposed to know good snow from bad snow if you are just pulling into town? You are not able to keep tabs on the conditions on the mountain each day a week or two before your arrival. How much blind faith do you put into the official avalanche report each day? More disturbing is the statistic that 78% of buried victims are not rescued alive using beacons. That's encouraging. I realize prevention is much more important than your ability to react. Maybe I will stay on the bunny hills and meadows.
Lets get ABS bags. Mo' money!
Do you want to know the best way to know avalanche danger? Talk to skiers. Backcountry skiers hike the terrain they ski, so they know exactly what the snowpack is like. I ski at a resort most of the time, but that is also a good way to know the snow. I know exactly what aspects are windloaded and exactly what the snow feels like underfoot in a wide variety of situations. Sledders are at a disadvantage because they can't feel or hear the snow because of their machines. The avalanche report will tell you how careful you need to be. If it is at anything above medium danger, you should never go on a slope that is the correct pitch to slide unless you are highly experienced in snow science. Even at medium danger, there will be certain aspects that are still quite prone to slide- mainly from windloading. I've carefully studied where the ski patrol throws their bombs, and what the snowpack looks like when they get a slide to go. Out in the backcountry it's not too hard to spot dangerous places if you know what to look for. Sometimes you've just got to rely on some kind of primordial instinct. Every once in awhile I just feel a chill up my spine and things just don't feel right. Best thing to do then is get the hell out of there fast.
I wouldn't say be afraid of the snowpack, more of respect what it can do with you being the trigger.Education and knowledge are powerful tools, use them.
The packs are a great tool, just like the beacons and shovels and probes. They aren't going to keep you out of a slide, only better your chances of survival. I think if I was going to get one I'd go with the SnowPulse style that protects the head and neck. I'm not quite ready for wings behind me yet.
The videos on you tube of avalanches are good to look at. You can see some of the terrain that can slide.
To be straight forward, if you don't know the signs to look for, stay away. Some people go out all day and don't get off the sled once to check snow conditions, what the layers are like. The shovel can be used for more than digging yourself out, it can prevent disaster. It is like playing Russian Roulette, eventually the bullet is going to be in front of the hammer, and when it hits someone dies. Like Ruby said, you can sometimes look at something and get the "Oh shit" feeling, trust it.
I agree with some of the safety items out there to survive these things but common sense is the best tool. Also, safety devices are only good if you know how to use them. Remember, there is more to an avalanche than nice fluffy snow sliding down a hill. You have trees, snow slabs that can crush you, and rocks underneath. Nothing is 100% if you get stuck in these things.
I've got a ski movie by Teton Gravity Research that has a great section on avalanche safety. It shows you how to dig a pit and how to practice with your transceivers. I'll see if I can dig it up and figure out how to rip that section. Seeing it all in action really helps.
That would be a great addition to the links and info posted here Rubi. I agree with P800 and yourself, if something doesn't feel right, get to a position it does, quickly and safely. I too have gotten that twitch that says don't do it, get clear. So far common sense and education has paid off, I've not been an active part of any avys.
All the gear is great, can't ever be too safe. But it's for the time when despite all the precautions, all the education, even when common sense fails to be right, it will give you a chance. Despite your best efforts, sometimes shit will happen, be prepared, expect the worst and be ready to act if it does happen.
I think some of the new safety equipment coming out will give people courage they normally wouldn't have.
Ok, my desire is to better understand how to avoid a problem area. Based on what I have read, they keep referring to how the snow builds in layers, that is what is important. I understand that. Do you guys really dig a pit and perform snow tests on each hill you are going to climb before you climb it? Or is how the layers are layed up fairly consistent in a given mountain range once you figure out how it is layed up the day you are there? I understand that each slope can vary based on the direction it faces, how much sun it gets, the degree of slope, wind, etc. I am speaking generally. I have been out west 7 times and in all honesty just used what I felt was common sense when determining if I was going to ride an area or not. I do not think that is enough anymore. If I lived in the area I was riding, I would have a better handle on how the snow fell the days before riding, the temparature fluctuations, etc. When you are traveling to an area, you really do not know that except by following the forecasts before you arrive. Am I making sense?
I personally don't dig a pit on every hill, or even on every trip out. But as I've heard Rubi state on here, I am a weather addict when winter starts getting here. At any given moment 4 or 5 tabs will be open on Wunderground.com live feeds for areas. My home area we have a couple simple weather stations in the area that send data back to wundergrond for monitoring. So we know when the temps have changed or wind direction switched .... so yeah it does make it easier for me to make judgements on what is an acceptable risk or not.
Nothing has changed from those other 7 trips except your awareness, use that to learn more and make decisions based on data, along with that inner voice it will protect you if used right.
Maybe I am getting to worried. I blame Keith! Just trying to get more educated because Ignorance is not Bliss in this situation. I am going to start paying much closer attention to the weather, mostly at Vail Pass, before we come out. I am not two concerned about Rabbit Ears (at least the areas I have been to).
I agree with you, it's gotta be his fault......
Seriously I'd agree with you in too many cases. I bought the gear I have not because it makes me avy-proof or a better rider, but because if it happens I've got a bit better chance. Of course learning to bite the mouthpiece of this Avalung I bought may take some work. Keeping it in if an Avy does happen won't be a problem, I'll have a deathgrip on it then......lol.
USE COMMON SENSE, KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
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