Winter has arrived in various parts of the country and that means it's time to dust off the avalanche safety equipment and brush up on our backcountry rescue skills. With so many amazing resources at our fingertips, it's easier than ever to find online tutorials, avalanche clinics in your area, local avalanche forecasts, equipment training and more.
Before venturing into snowy wilderness areas, take the extra time to prepare for the conditions, by checking forecasts and acquiring safety gear.
Before entering the backcountry, check online forecasts for the most updated danger levels in that area. The U.S. Forest Service supports 14 backcountry avalanche centers to provide daily avalanche forecasts.
Check the weather during trip planning and immediately before departure.
Take an avalanche course before venturing into the wilderness.
Buddy system: Travel with others and communicate with each other about your observations to make informed decisions.
Experts recommend three essential gear items for backcountry snow travel: an avalanche probe for locating a partner in the snow, a shovel for digging out, and an avalanche transceiver that can transmit and receive signals when buried under snow.
Additional recommended gear includes an avalanche airbag, GPS for navigation (also accelerates rescue if you can provide GPS coordinates), and first aid kit.
Wear the gear on your body in case you get separated from your sled or partner.
Learn how to use the rescue equipment—it does nothing for you if you don’t know how to use it in a hurry.
Make sure bindings for your skis or snowboard are releasable. Non-releasable bindings could trap you in a snow slide.
Have an emergency plan already in place before setting out. Communicate your travel plan to others outside your group.
Common mistakes can become deadly. Constant vigilance can help avoid some of these common errors.
Don’t stop in an exposed area on a slope—your risk of getting caught in a fast-moving avalanche increases.
Don’t get too separated from your group members so that you can’t hear or see each other.
When in a group, avoid travelling immediately above a partner; doing so risks triggering an avalanche on the person lower on the slope.
Don’t get so distracted by taking photos or videos that you lose sight of avalanche risks. On a scale of one to five, most fatalities occur when danger levels are two (moderate) and three (considerable).
Award Winning film by the Utah Avalanche Center: To Hell in a Heartbeat