Avalanche Safety Tips: A Guide to Preparing your Patrollers, Skiers & Riders

The Science Behind Avalanches

Avalanche safety is key for mountain operators throughout the world. These scary and confusing forces of nature happen suddenly and the statistics aren’t in the victim’s favor. Beaconreviews.com shares that approximately 25% of victims are killed by trauma and “of those that survive, more than half will die within the first 15 minutes.” How do these emergencies happen and what can your emergency management crew do to prepare?

Avalanches can happen for a number of different reasons. Natural causes include new snow or rain, earthquakes and animal movements. However, artificial triggers are more common. These causes include snowmobiles, skiers, snowboards, explosives and even gunshots. When these triggers happen during the winter or spring in areas with high snowfalls, avalanches can happen at speeds up to 120mph.

Have an Avalanche Safety Plan

It is important for winter resort operators to have a Crisis Action Plan in the case of an avalanche. There are three stages to avalanche rescue plans.

Stage 1

The first ten minutes is called stage 1. This is a critical time for ski mountain operators. After the initial event, you must dispatch your hasty team, close nearby lifts and go into emergency mode. Remember to appoint a scribe to document communication times and rescue deployment. Once your patrollers get on site, it’s important that they:

  • Start a dog search (the quickest way to find someone buried without a transceiver)
  • Evaluate remaining avalanche hazards
  • Call out the victim(s) name(s)
  • Look for visual clues
  • Start transceiver search
  • Start probing

Stage 2

During stage 2, emergency management should contact medical personnel. Stage 2 lasts for 20 minutes and is also a good time to contact any extra personnel to help with resort and rescue operations. This means contacting all available patrollers and volunteers.

Stage 3

The last stage is until 60 minutes have passed. By this point you will have hopefully found any victims. Most people can last up to an hour after behind buried in avalanche snow. This time can be extended slightly if the victim has an avalanche backpack or has been able to make an air pocket to breathe.

If your crew does successfully locate and extract the victim(s), it’s important to spring into action. After you prop the victim up, remember the ABC‘s: Establish an Airway, check to see that they’re Breathing and check Circulation.

How to Prepare Your Skiers and Riders for Avalanches

Make your skiers and riders aware of avalanche safety before they hit the slopes. Since humans cause most avalanches, teach your riders the warning signs: