If you plan to be around mountains this winter, you need to be prepared for avalanches. According to the New York Times, avalanche fatalities are on the rise these days, thanks to a surge in popularity for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. In fact 50 years ago, there was only one documented death from an avalanche in North America. Today, there are at least 30 avalanche deaths each year!
Experts say the problem is that many of us are naturally drawn to the unknown. Ski resorts are seeing more people on backcountry trails, because they want the thrill of skiing somewhere new. Others see extreme athletes risking danger on TV, and they think: “I can do that too.” Unfortunately, sliding snow isn’t what kills most people in an avalanche. Instead, you’re more likely to die from being buried under snow. That’s because the warmth of your breath will immediately start to melt the snow around your face, and when the water refreezes, it’ll form a casing of ice that can suffocate you within 15 minutes!
The easiest way to avoid being caught in an avalanche is to stay on well-marked ski trails. Experts say those are often treated with explosives and snow-compacting machines, to make conditions safer. If you do get caught in an avalanche, experts say you can increase your odds of surviving by remembering that snow is made up of frozen water. So think like a swimmer, and try to stay on top of the snow by “swimming” as hard as you can. If you’re a more experienced skier, you may also want to carry a collapsible shovel and a radio transceiver – which can help rescuers find you. No matter what your skill level, experts say you should always explore mountain trails in pairs! That’s because if you get buried in snow, your partner may be your only hope of survival. Want more information about avalanche safety? Check out Avalanche.org.