How to Protect Yourself from an Avalanche

Know Your Avalanche Risk

Learn about your local avalanche risk. Know the signs of increased danger, including recent avalanches and shooting cracks across slopes. Avoid areas of increased risk, such as slopes steeper than 30 degrees or areas under steep slopes. Get training on how to recognize hazardous conditions and avalanche-prone locations. Your community may also have a local warning system.

Preparing for Avalanche

Avoid areas of increased risk like slopes steeper than 30 degrees or areas downhill of steep slopes.

Get the proper equipment to protect yourself from head injuries and create air pockets. Receive first aid training so you can recognize and treat suffocation, hypothermia, traumatic injury, and shock. Wear a helmet to help reduce head injuries and create air pockets. Wear an avalanche beacon to help rescuers locate you. Use an avalanche airbag that may help you from being completely buried. Carry a collapsible avalanche probe and a small shovel to help rescue others.

Warning Signs

The following are a few of the warning signs of unstable snow and possible avalanches:

  • You see an avalanche happen or see evidence of previous slides.
  • Cracks form in the snow around your feet or skis.
  • The ground feels hollow underfoot.
  • You hear a “whumping” sound as you walk, which indicates that the snow is settling and a slab might release.
  • Heavy snowfall or rain in the past 24 hours
  • Significant warming or rapidly increasing temperatures
  • You see surface patterns on the snow made by the force of strong winds. This could indicate that snow has been transported and deposited in dangerous drifts that could release.

Follow avalanche warnings on roads. Roads may be closed, or vehicles may be advised not to stop on the roadside. Local safety crews may be performing controlled avalanche detonations to reduce buildup in certain areas. 

  • Use and carry safety equipment and rescue gear.
  • If your partner or others are buried, call 9-1-1 and then begin to search if it is safe to do so.
  • If you have the proper training, treat others for suffocation, hypothermia, traumatic injury, or shock.

Returning After

Know the signs and ways to treat hypothermia.

  • Hypothermia is an unusually low body temperature. A body temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency.
    • Signs: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.
    • Actions: Go to a warm room or shelter. Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head and groin. Keep the person dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck.
  • Engage virtually with your community through video and phone calls. Know that it’s normal to feel anxious or stressed. Take care of your body and talk to someone if you are feeling upset.