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Tips to help Survive an avalanche

Being in an avalanche has been compared to standing on a carpet and suddenly having it ripped out from under you. It's an apt metaphor, except in an avalanche the carpet can weigh hundreds of thousands of tons and can travel at well over 100 miles per hour, destroying everything in its path. Around the world, avalanches are responsible for an average of nearly 150 deaths per year. If you're unfortunate enough to be caught in an avalanche, here's what you can do to increase your chances of survival.

Before hitting the slopes where there is any possibility of an avalanche, fasten all your clothing securely to keep out snow. Loosen your pack so that you can slip out of it with ease and remove your ski pole straps. Make sure that your avalanche beacon is on and switched to "transmit" rather than "receive." Cross the slope one at a time to minimize danger.

If you are caught in the avalanche yell and let go of ski poles and get out of your pack to make yourself lighter. Use "swimming" motions, thrusting upward to try to stay near the surface of the snow. When avalanches come to a stop and debris begins to pile up, the snow can set as hard as cement. Unless you are on the surface and your hands are free, it is almost impossible to dig yourself out. If you are fortunate enough to end up near the surface (or at least know which direction it is), try to stick out an arm or a leg so that rescuers can find you quickly.

If you are in over your head (not near the surface), try to maintain an air pocket in front of your face using your hands and arms, punching into the snow. When an avalanche finally stops, you may have only a few seconds before the snow sets up and hardens. Many avalanche deaths are caused by suffocation, so creating an air space is one of the most critical things you can do. Also, take a deep breath to expand your chest and hold it; otherwise, you may not be able to breathe after the snow sets. To preserve air space, yell or make noise only when rescuers are near you. Snow is such a good insulator they probably will not hear you until they are practically on top of you.

Above all, do not panic. Keeping your breathing steady will help preserve your air space and extend your survival chances. If you remain calm, your body will be better able to conserve energy.




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