Avalanche dangers are severe this winter with a mostly deeper than normal snow pack, a soft sugary base, extreme changes in temperature and high winds leading to multiple unstable snow and ice layers. Getting caught in an active avalanche is like being trapped in a spinning dryer. After the avalanche settles, even if a victim survives without serious injury, the troubles have only just begun. Victims are likely to be disoriented, buried alive and trapped with little or no available oxygen.
An avalanche can be triggered by snow or ice falling off a bow of a tree, by a hiker, skier or snow shoer, by a wild or domesticated animal, by a snow machine, or by some other movement or projectile, or by the sheer weight of accumulated ice and snow and a gust of wind.
"What should you do if you are caught in an avalanche?" The Los Angeles Times asked John Snook, avalanche forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
At the first sign of an avalanche, he suggests thrashing around as if your life depends upon it -- because it does. Thrashing, or "swimming," can help you stay atop the slide and the snow, making survival more likely, he said Monday.
If you are being enveloped by snow, do your best to keep one arm straight above your head. This serves two purposes. It can help you figure out up from down, which is not always possible if you've been tossed around and become disoriented, Snook told The Times.
And, if you're lucky, your gloved hand could be sticking up above the snow to help rescuers find you.
With your other hand, Snook said, try your best to create an air pocket in front of your face before the snow becomes too compacted. People buried in avalanches smother, so an air pocket could provide you with enough air to survive until help arrives, he said.
An air pocket can also make room for this trick: If you're stuck in the snow and you can't tell up from down, spit. Gravity will tell you which direction to move -- assuming that you can move.Snook counsels avoidance and preparation are each necessary tools.
Snook also suggests that adventurers understand the basics of avalanches, and use such information for their safety. For example, avalanches cannot occur on slopes that are less than 25 to 30 degrees. When plotting out routes, such knowledge can add an extra cushion of safety so that outdoors lovers can focus on safely getting to their destination instead of courting danger along the way.
The best way to avoid an avalanche is to take precautions from the get-go. "Every mountain in the West has a local avalanche center," he said. Every snow adventurer should be versed in the weather forecast, the snowpack conditions and the avalanche danger rating before venturing out for the day.Avalanches have hit early and often this winter. In nearby Idaho,
Consult the forecast, research the area that you're planning to traverse and, most important, don't allow skiers' "powder fever" to overrule your better judgment, he said.
When traveling in avalanche-prone areas, don't move together as a pack. Each skier or snowboarder should navigate the stretch ahead alone. That way, if disaster strikes, survivors can alert rescuers to the victim's whereabouts.
Everyone trekking into the snowy wilderness -- snowboarders, skiers, snowmobilers -- should be carrying an avalanche survival kit containing a snow shovel, a beacon that is worn on the body, and a probe. High-tech probes work hand-in-hand with the beacon to locate a victim and can even poke air holes in the snow to help victims breathe until they can be rescued.
"The whole idea is to just buy yourself some time until help can arrive," he said.
A relatively new device, a flotation air bag, can be deployed in the case of an avalanche. It's being credited with saving the life of one of the skiers, Elyse Staugstad, who was also caught in a ... deadly slide.
Avalanche covers Idaho Highway
Posted: Jan 12, 2014 11:38 AM by Meteorologist Adam Bell
Updated: Jan 12, 2014 12:11 PM
According to the National Weather Service and the Idaho Department of highways, two avalanches slid across US-93 in Idaho. Both were in a similar location, the first crossed the highway near mile marker 345. It was 900 feet in length, 24 feet wide and 6 to 8 feet deep. The highway was cleared within a couple of hours. The slide was between Twin Lakes and Lost Trail Pass.
The second avalanche was 100 feet in length, 12 feet wide and 6 to 8 feet deep. Officials were able to clear the second slide, with all lanes open by 10 am Sunday morning.
Avalanche closes Hwy 21 in Idaho.
According to the Idaho Department of Highways, ID-21 isIn lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Kenneth and Blaike Gibson Education Fund, and can be dropped off or sent to any First Interstate Bank Location.
closed between Grandjean Road and Banner Creek Summit, about 24 to 35 miles south of the Stanley area. The department says there is danger of an avalanche, though there is no information if there is any debris on the roadway.