Photo of a snow avalanche at the base of a mountain.
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Avalanche

People caught in avalanches can die from suffocation, trauma, or hypothermia. On average, 28 people die in avalanches every winter in the United States. An avalanche is a large amount of snow moving quickly down a mountain, typically on slopes of 30–45 degrees. When an avalanche stops, the snow becomes solid, like concrete, and people are unable to dig out. Avalanches can:

  • Be caused by people, new snow, and wind;
  • Move at speeds of 60-80 MPH; and
  • Peak during the period of December through March.

How to protect yourself from an avalanche

  • Get training on how to recognize hazardous conditions and avalanche-prone locations.
  • Learn how to properly use safety equipment.
  • Sign up for alerts on current avalanche dangers.
  • Get proper equipment to protect yourself from head injuries and create air pockets.
  • Use devices to support rescue.
  • Always have a buddy, preferably one familiar with the area.

What to do NOW: Prepare

  • Learn about your local avalanche risk.
  • Sign up for alerts from a U.S. Forest Service Avalanche Center near you. Your community may also have a local warning system on which you can rely.
  • Learn the signs of an avalanche and how to use safety and rescue equipment.
  • Receive first aid training so you can recognize and treat suffocation, hypothermia, traumatic injury, and shock, and learn how to use safety and rescue equipment
  • Travel with a guide who knows which locations to avoid. Always travel in pairs.
  • Follow avalanche warnings on roads. Roads may be closed, or vehicles may be advised not to stop on the roadside.
  • Avoid areas of increased risk, such as slopes steeper than 30 degrees or areas under steep slopes.
  • Know the signs of increased danger, including recent avalanches and shooting cracks across slopes.
  • 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.

What to do DURING: Survive

  • The most important actions you can take to survive an avalanche are taken before it happens:

  • Know the conditions;

    • Avoid locations where there is danger of an avalanche.

    • Always travel in pairs; and

    • Use and carry safety equipment and rescue gear;

    • Get the training;

    • Check for and listen to alerts;

  • If your partner or others are buried, call 911 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.

What to do AFTER: Be Safe

  • 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.

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