Avalanche Safety Tips

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Here’s what you need to know about avalanches before exploring the backcountry.

Regardless of the winter activity you’re participating in—including skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or even snowmobiling—there is a potential avalanche risk, especially during a large snowfall. Particularly in the backcountry, there is a greater risk of avalanches than at ski resorts as resort trails are groomed and maintained. It’s important to be safe and educated on what to do if you get caught in an avalanche.

We’ve outlined what you need to know about avalanches to have a fun and safe experience in the backcountry.

Where do avalanches typically occur?

Avalanches occur in mountainous regions worldwide when a layer of snow collapses rapidly down a hill. This happens when the force of gravity is greater than the strength of snow on the mountain, pushing the layer of snow down the mountain. The large layer of snow falls down the mountain until it settles at “runout zone.” Note: an avalanche can reach roads, so it’s important to drive with caution and obey road signs through avalanche-prone areas. Avalanches typically occur in the backcountry, as these slopes are not groomed like those found in ski resorts. Avalanches can be triggered by large snowfalls, warming temperatures, wind, and rain. They can also be triggered by earthquakes, vibrations from construction, a loud noise, skiers, snowmobiles, snowshoers, and much more. Sometimes, avalanche experts create small, controlled avalanches with percussion guns or explosives when the area is clear of people to prevent a large, uncontrolled avalanche from occurring later on.

How do I prevent getting caught in an avalanche?

When exploring the backcountry, it is important to travel with a group of people and an experienced leader that knows about avalanches and what to do if one occurs. The American Institute for Avalanche Research & Education offers an avalanche safety course, and The Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) offers a virtual backcountry education training for free. Even though avalanches are unlikely, it is important to educate on avalanche dangers and how to mitigate risks. In addition, before you take on your next backcountry adventure, make sure you monitor the avalanche forecast. If there was a recent avalanche in the area you want to explore, it’s best to postpone your visit. To monitor the avalanche forecast in Mammoth Lakes, check out the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center forecast. To monitor the avalanche forecast in Steamboat Springs and surrounding cities, visit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecast. If the avalanche forecast is high or extreme, avoid exploring the backcountry.

How do I save myself or others if caught in an avalanche?

If you get caught in the path of an avalanche, here are some tips to escape safely:

  • Grab onto trees, rocks, etc. to avoid being swept away or move to the side of the avalanche. Try not to outrun an avalanche. Instead, move to the side as quickly as possible.
  • If you are being carried downward with the avalanche, remain on the surface using a swimming motion.
  • If you get caught in the avalanche and it starts to slow down, try to push yourself toward the surface and make air pockets in front of your face using one arm.
  • When the avalanche stops, dig yourself out if possible. Relax your breathing and only shout when a searcher is near.

Don’t let avalanches discourage you from exploring the backcountry. If you take the necessary precautions and educate yourself, you will be able to have a fun and safe experience. If you are unsure or have any questions about avalanches, monitor the forecasts or reach out to the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area or Steamboat Ski Resort.

Book Your Backcountry Adventure with Nomadness Rentals

If you’re ready to book your next trip to the backcountry, you can find properties in Steamboat Springs, CO and Mammoth Lakes, CA through Nomadness Rentals. From luxury downtown rentals to intimate condos with mountain views, there is something for everyone! We offer condo, townhome, and home vacation rentals with amazing amenities such as ski-in/ski-out properties, pet-friendly homes, hot tub and pool access, and much more. Book your trip with us online or through our new mobile app! To download our app on IOS, click HERE. To download our app on Android, click HERE.