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What is an Avalanche?

An avalanche occurs when loose snow or a slab of snow starts moving down a slope. Avalanches are triggered by a variety of slope, snow and weather conditions. Often, avalanches are triggered by human impact. An avalanche is a serious threat to human life. It is important to try to avoid causing one.

An avalanche can happen wherever there is snow, lying on ground of sufficient angle. Many avalanches are cornice-triggered. Climbing below cornices should be avoided during snowstorms or heavy drifting and up to 48 hours afterwards, and during heavy thaw or sudden temperature rise.

Convex slopes are usually more hazardous than uniform or concave slopes. Ridges or buttresses are better choices than open slopes and gullies. Leeward slopes should be avoided after storms or heavy drifting.

When you ski, it is a good idea to carry and know how to use avalanche equipment, including transceivers, probe poles and shovels.

Tips on how to avoid an avalanche

  • Before you set out, check the snow and avalanche reports.
  • Do not ski off the marked slopes.
  • Look for visible avalanche activity. If you see avalanche activity on a slope do not go on that slope.
  • Be aware of snow buildup.
    • More than 2cm of snow an hour may produce unstable conditions. More than 30cm continuous buildup is regarded as very hazardous.

If you are caught in an avalanche:

  • Keep your mouth closed so you won't choke on the snow.
  • Once everything settles, call out so other members of your party can find you.
  • If you are on a snowmobile, discard all equipment and get away from your snowmobile.
  • Make swimming motions and try to stay on top
  • Move around before the snow stops moving to give yourself room.
  • As you feel the avalanche slow, try to thrust your hand, other part of your body or ski pole, above the surface.
  • Before the snow settles, slip your arm in front of your face to clear an air space.
  • If you are buried under snow, dribble spit out of your mouth so you can determine which way is down.
  • Try not to panic because you need to conserve oxygen.

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