How to survive an avalanche? Move fast
An avalanche is one of the main threats to life in the high mountains in winter. Every year, more than 150 people die in avalanches in the world, but in the 2020/21 season, there were as many as 130 deaths in Europe alone, mainly in France, Switzerland and Italy. In 2003, in the Polish Tatras, 9 people were carried away by the losing mass of snow in Rysy. For 8 of them, the accident ended fatally. Therefore, before going to the mountains, be sure to check the avalanche danger level announced by TOPR. Also, always be mindful of the equipment advice and instructions on how to proceed. In today's article, we present recommendations in the event of an avalanche - we invite you to read.
Equipment necessary in the event of an avalanche
There is a lot of information on the Internet about amateur equipment for expeditions to regions endangered by avalanches. The most popular device is a radio wave reflector, which rescue services use to search for people trapped under the snow. As part of the above-described RECCO system, backpacks, trousers and jackets with reflectors are produced. Another technology is PIEPS, which differs from RECCO in the type of detector. In the case of PIEPS, this device is also a transmitter that the traveler must turn on when going into the endangered areas.
In the avalanche ABC on a winter expedition, there should also be a small, handy shovel. The best option for digging out people from under the snow is a foldable military shovel, which should be attached to a backpack or added to luggage. This is a multifunctional tool to which manufacturers often add covers.
It is also always worth having basic mountain equipment that will prevent injuries and colds. When heading to the top, it's best to take multiple layers of clothes that can be removed or put on as weather conditions change. With safety and comfort in mind, you should also take care of appropriate footwear for trips to the mountains. In our article on mountain boots, we've provided a few examples of models that will work well on the trail. It is important that the footwear has a high grip and that it protects the foot in the event of an impact against a stone. In an emergency, caused, for example, by an avalanche, functional legs are essential.
How to behave in the event of an avalanche? 4 steps
But what if the services have not been informed about the avalanche and you are the only person on the scene? And you don't have any special equipment with you… In addition, it is in your direction that tons of snow are moving at dizzying speed. What to do? Do you have any chance of surviving an avalanche? Follow the instructions below and you may survive:
The avalanche is descending at a speed of 200 km / h, so the escape is futile. When you see the wall of snow rushing toward you, you have two options:
- run to the nearest rock and stick to it,
- run towards the nearest wing / edge of the avalanche (in the absence of rock shields).
If you were lucky and the avalanche was not too big, then the rock covered you and you can continue walking safely. If you did not manage to hide, try to stay afloat at all costs - do not let the avalanche cover you at the very beginning. It will be much easier if you reached the wing / edge of the avalanche earlier.
When you feel the avalanche slows down and you collapse under it, cover your head with your forearms. This way you will create a space buffer. Once covered with snow, this space will provide you with a minimum amount of oxygen.
Now you need to act fast! Second by second the snow starts to harden like concrete. You can get confused and start digging towards the ground. To avoid this, spit - the saliva will drop to the ground under the influence of gravity. You have to dig in the opposite direction.
JIf you were very lucky, the avalanche wasn't huge and you acted fast enough, congratulations - you survived! In this case, it is better to familiarize yourself with the search procedure for missing persons in order to start helping other people by getting them out from under the heaps of snow. It is certainly also worth having a properly completed first aid kit and knowing how to provide first aid. A set of dressings, medications and other useful accessories will also be useful in other situations - after all, an avalanche is not the only threat in the mountains. One of the dangers is dog attack. In addition, the elements can also surprise you in summer - strong winds and mountain storms are much more dangerous if you are high up.
Author: Kajetan Wilczyński
Editing: Tomasz Świgoń