As a former ski patroller and an avid back country skier, I'm familiar with avalanches. I've watched friends go for rides, recovered bodies, and even been fully buried myself. I have lots of stories. When I was caught and buried we did all the "right" stuff (dug multiple pits, were familiar with the snowpack and terrain, cut the hill numerous time) but none-the-less I got caught. It was a wild and scary ride. I'm quite glad my friend was well trained, had years of rescue experience, and there to dig me out. Although I managed to create a small air hole with my left hand before the snow completely settled, I don't think I could have gotten free by myself. I lost some gear, broke a brand new ski (it could easily have been my leg), and gained increased respect for the power of sliding snow. Later that winter I overheard a ski buddy with years of ski guiding, patrolling, and avy control experience say to a new backcountry skier: "If you spend enough time skiing in the high mountains, you'll eventually get caught in a sluff or avalanche." Whoa! Not particularly reassuring, yet I've found it to be true....
- take an avalanche course, maintain your skills, and practice what you learn
- travel with others who are trained in avalanche awareness, rescue, and wilderness medicine
- turn on your avalanche transceiver before you enter avalanche terrain
- have communication via cell or satellite phone with SAR
- buy, practice with, and wear an AvaLung, pack air bags, or similar devices
- listen to the local avalanche forecast and making prudent decisions
- Utah Avalanche Center online tutorials
- Online portal to all major US forecast centers
- Online portal to all Canadian forecasts and education
- Avalanche basics from the Forest Service National Avalanche Center
- A "must see" move about five friends, the decisions they made, and a fatal avalanche: "A Dozen More Turns"
Guides and expedition leaders should consider taking our Wilderness First Responder course.