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Safety Series: Being Prepared for Avalanches

Posted on Dec 06, 2016 by

Tags: Safety Moment  | Comments (0)

Winter is around the corner and the biggest hazards during this time are avalanches. When working in northern, mountainous regions, it is important to be aware of and prepared for this hazard.

Avalanches are prone to occur in mountain ranges with extreme amounts of snow fall and buildup. An avalanche is a mass of snow that collapses and slides downhill, gaining speeds up to 90km/h. Avalanches can occur due to any of the following triggers:

  • Overloading: The weight of the snow increases until it overcomes cohesion to the snow pack underneath
  • Temperature: A rise in temperature weakens the bonds creating weakness
  • Slope angle: Most avalanches occur on slopes between 25 and 40 degrees
  • Snow pack conditions: Layers below the surface are not visible making it hard to tell if a slope will fail
  • Vibration: Thunder, earthquakes, gun shots, explosions, or other noises can trigger avalanches

The temperature of the environment can affect the cohesion of the snow; a rise in temperature weakens the bonds between the surface snows. If a winter storm occurs and more than 30cm of snow accumulates within 24 hours, there is a high chance of an avalanche since the snow has not compacted fully.


Being Safe in Mountainous Regions:


If you are being mobilized to a site near the mountains, it is best to create a pre-trip plan. This plan should include identifying a route to take, selecting proper avalanche safety gear and informing others of your trip. The plan will avoid potential avalanche terrain and avalanche prone zones. Updated information can be found on Avalanche Canada or other Avalanche emergency management websites. When going into avalanche areas always carry proper safety gear such as high quality visible clothing, first aid pack, water, food, an avalanche transceiver and other emergency supplies that could possibly save your life.


Actions to take when avalanche occurs:

If you become caught in an avalanche, try to:

  • Grab onto anything solid (trees, rocks, etc.) to avoid being swept away
  • Keep your mouth closed and your teeth clenched
  • If you start moving downward with the avalanche, stay on the surface using a swimming motion
  • Try to move yourself to the side of the avalanche


When the avalanche slows, attempt to:

  • Push yourself towards the surface
  • Make an air pocket in front of your face using one arm
  • Push the other arm towards the surface


When the avalanche stops, begin to:

  • Dig yourself out, if possible
  • Relax your breathing, particularly if you cannot dig yourself out
  • Stay calm and shout only when a searcher is near


After an avalanche:

  • When the avalanche stops, it will settle like concrete
  • Wait and hope for rescue
  • Try to remain calm and shout out only when a searcher is near
  • Relax your breathing, particularly if you are unable to dig yourself out. Never try to dig yourself out unless you see light from above the snow. The snow will appear brighter in appearance.
  • Remember every rescue team knows how to quickly locate people buried in an avalanche. Most teams work with dogs that have been specially trained to sniff out human scent. This means that the rescue team has a hand up on finding people buried under tons of snow.

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