Hopefully you will never end up in a situation where you can find yourself in the powerful forces of an avalanche. But if one were to happen, it is good to know what to do and how you can prepare yourself before you go out.
An avalanche can contain thousands of tons of snow and whether you survive or not is determined by the knowledge you and your peers have and the equipment you have with you – which you must use within 30 minutes of the accident. After 30 minutes you are likely to become so cold you will struggle to act.
You can find inclinometers as apps or map tools for your mobile from Lavinprognoser.se with national forecasts of avalanches from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. Avoid staying in places steeper than 25 degrees slope, where the risk is highest for an avalanche.
Watch out if you move in areas with steep slopes and very loose snow, as well as areas with trees, stones and shrubs that keep the snow on the mountain. If the weather has been back and forth between hot and cold, the avalanche risk increases, as strong sun loosens the snow.
In Europe, about 200 people every year in avalanches. The most common victims are skiers, snowmobilers and climbers. Snow moving down steep slopes can speed up to 100 kilometers per hour. The weight of a single person can create chain reactions where the snow cover collapses and an avalanche is created. Read more: Facts about Avalanches – Mountain Safety
Be sure to research avalanche information about the area you are going to move through.
- Talk to the locals who know the area.
- Read avalanche reports . Previous avalanches are a hint that more avalanches are likely.
- Follow the weather report . Rapid weather changes increase the risk of avalanches. Snowfall, wind, rain and increased temperature are particular risk factors.
- Choose routes that are safe when you move around – such as flat ground, on ridge slopes and if possible bare ground. Always go as high as possible.
If you see someone struck by an avalanche:
Try to keep right in the area where you last saw your companion. This will help the rescue personnel when they start the search. Call 112 as soon as you can – every second is precious.
If you end up in an avalanche:
- Get rid of all your equipment and try to find something you can hold on to as a tree trunk or rock.
- Try to curl up and protect your face and breathe deeply while still trying to keep as much snow as possible away from your mouth and face so you can have free airways.
- Stay as close to the surface as possible by paddling or treading ‘water’ with your feet.
If you still have to move through areas that are hazardous, be sure to bring avalanche beacons and shovels with you and prepare in advance for what you or someone in the group were to hit and avalanche. If you are unsure of where you can go in the winter, hire a guide who is experienced, go on a course and read as much as you can before you go out. Always choose the safe option before the unsafe.
Book tips for those who want to prepare for a safe stay in nature in all the seasons: