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February 10, 2010

Avalanche Article from the American Spectator

An odd place for an article on Avalanches, but good read nonetheless:

Recently, a young man was caught by an avalanche while skiing out-of-bounds at Snowbasin Resort in Utah. When found, he was dead and buried under only a foot of snow. The physics are interesting. When an avalanche stops, the snow settles within seconds and sets-up as hard as concrete. The victim's movements are paralyzed, and -- like drowning -- death usually comes within 15 minutes due to suffocation. Though there are historical cases of people surviving after being buried up to 45 minutes. At any rate, it's a hideous way to die...

There are precautions to be taken in avalanche country. Check avalanche conditions online or via local media before a trip. Know the landscape and avoid open, expansive areas without trees. Never cross-country ski, snowmobile, or otherwise travel alone in the backcountry. When accompanied by fellow recreationists, small portable shovels, collapsible steel probe poles, and electronic transmitter beacons all increase the survival odds if one is caught in a snow slide. If caught in a slide, flail your arms and legs around in a swimming motion that might leave limbs exposed when it stops. If there's time, extricate yourself from skis or a backpack to assist range of motion. Even a deep breath before it hits will increase survival time by a few minutes. Keep your mouth shut so it doesn't fill with snow and choke you. After all that, say your prayers.

But avalanches aren't the only hazard found out-of-bounds. Recently, at Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming, a 46-year-old man from New York skied over the line near day's end and simply got lost. He called the 911 on his cell phone and reported his predicament. When asked to describe his surroundings he noted an open snowy meadow with a creek flowing through it. Unfortunately, that described hundreds of acres in the area. The man had a GPS Unit, but didn't know how to use it. He was dressed well for a day of skiing, but lacked the extra clothes and survival gear needed to survive the night. Local Search and Rescue personnel and the Grand Targhee Ski Patrol searched for part of the night, but due to snowy weather and the avalanche danger, halted the search until daylight. In the morning they found the man dead of hypothermia.

It is all about preparation. First, know your surroundings. If you want to go backcountry skiing, at least know how to use a GPS and beacon. Have the right equipment. Never go alone.

There are hundreds of dangerous activities in life that are extremely fun and rewarding. Backcountry skiing can certainly be one of them, but it is not for the inexperienced. Hence why I do not ski backcountry. But even backcountry is no where near as dangerous as "side-country skiing" where novice skiers venture just over the ropes to try to track some wide open expanse of snow.

Know your limits. Have the right gear. Have SURVIVAL GEAR. Don't do stupid stuff.

Posted by Justin at February 10, 2010 04:27 PM