The How Avalanches work.



How do avalanches work?

Avalanche Prevention and Control

Human lives are not the only thing that large avalanches can claim. They can disrupt local businesses and economies by destroying buildings and other structures as well as cover huge areas of infrastructure such as train tracks and major roadways. Because avalanches can cause such damage, prevention and control of avalanches is extremely important and for this reason, ski patrols and other organizations work together to stop avalanches before they begin. Because it’s impossible to see the layers with the human eye alone to detect areas snow packs that are especially vulnerable to avalanches, these organizations use many different types of equipment and techniques to detect avalanche areas. Past history is also widely used in detecting which areas of certain mountains are especially prone to avalanches.

One method that is used to prevent large avalanches that will cause much destruction is to deliberately cause several small avalanches when no one is on the mountain. This will eliminate weak layers and greatly lessen the chances of a large avalanche from taking place. With this method, pits are usually dug into the layers of the snow packs and radar technology, along with other forms, are used to study the different layers of the snowpack and detect weak areas. When weak areas are found, explosives are dropped into the pits and small avalanches are created. Sometimes on smaller slopes, trained skiers will ski over the weak areas, causing them to break. This is called ski checking and this is always done in pairs, with one partner remaining in a safe location so that they may go for help should the partner skiing along the fracture lines run into trouble.

Other methods of preventing avalanches involve preventing the conditions in which avalanches are most likely to form. This sometimes means installing objects that will help break up the wind and change the way the snow accumulates. Fences, posts, nets, and anchors are often installed for this very reason. These objects not only help to change the way the snow accumulates but they are also obstacles that could get in the way of an avalanche, should one occur, and slow it down and they also can help to make the slabs of a snowpack smaller, causing a much smaller avalanche. In some countries such as Canada and the United States, reforestation has been put into place into places that are prone to avalanches to create natural wind barriers. But people who love the crisp mountain air and especially enjoy running down the side of a mountain on a pair of skis or a snowboard can also do many things to prevent avalanches and greatly reduce their chances of getting caught in one.

Avalanches are most likely to occur on slopes of mountains that are steep and smooth and they will most likely occur on uninterrupted slopes, meaning that there are very few obstacles such as trees and bush. Unfortunately, these are also prime skiing and snowmobiling conditions, also known as ‘backcountry.’ Sports enthusiasts come to these areas to enjoy undisturbed outdoor recreation and activities such as high marking, which is when a snowmobile is driven quickly to the highest point and then quickly back down in an arc, are activities that will most certainly ensure than an avalanche is soon to follow. Those who wish to spend time in the backcountry should certainly take proper measures to decrease their chances of being caught in an avalanche but caution should always be exercised and it should always be kept in mind that an avalanche is always possible.

Anybody who is interested in visiting the backcountry should take an avalanche safety and survival course to provide knowledge on preventing and surviving avalanches and those skiing in the backcountry should never do so on their own but should always take a partner with them. It’s important when skiing, that one partner is never higher than another but side by side. A shovel, a rescue beacon, and an avalanche probe are essential tools when in the backcountry. The shovel can be used to try and dig one’s way out of an avalanche and the rescue beacon is a transmitter that will let others know where you are in the event of an avalanche. It’s also important to measure the slope, which can be done with an inclinometer, sold at most sporting good stores or ski and snowboard specialty shops. It’s also important to know where avalanche-prone areas are so that one can avoid them while enjoying the mountain slope. If it’s necessary to travel through avalanche-prone areas, they should be crossed at the top instead of through the middle and skiers should do so one at a time to lower the risks. Also, any areas where paths made by an avalanche can be seen should also be avoided. Unlike many people think, the fact that one avalanche has occurred there does not decrease the chances of another occurring but actually makes it a high-risk area for avalanches.

How to Survive an Avalanche

When a person is caught in an avalanche and dies from it, the death is generally caused by one of three factors resulting from the avalanche – hypothermia, physical injury, or suffocation. Survival techniques focus on getting out of the avalanche before it comes to a stop, preventing being buried completely by the avalanche and reducing how much time the person spends in the snow. Once a skier or snowmobiler realizes that an avalanche has begun, it’s extremely important to get out of its path. This will get you out of the way of the avalanche and can help you avoid it completely. Help should only be called for once – loud and clear, so that anyone within earshot will know that you are in trouble. However, it’s important not to panic and continue to call for help as this can cause snow to get into your mouth and block your airways. Here are a few other tips to surviving an avalanche:

  • Once you realize that an avalanche has started and you have gotten out of the way, take off any equipment as fast as you can. This includes skis, snowboards, and snowmobiles. If you’re on a snowmobile, try to get as far away from the vehicle as you can. Skis and snowboards should be removed to prevent strain on the legs and prevent any bones from breaking. Any emergency equipment should be kept with the person, preferably in a backpack so it will not get torn from them during the avalanche.
  • If you are buried in an avalanche, don’t try digging your way out as it is nearly impossible and will only sap your strength. Instead, use swimming motions to get through the snow to the top.
  • When travelling with the avalanche along its path, grab any sturdy and strong objects, such as a tree, to get you out of the avalanche and keep you above the surface.
  • As the snow begins to lose speed, cup a hand or an arm over your mouth so that you will have an air pocket once it has come to a complete stop.
  • Try to throw as much of your body out of the snow as possible. This will make it more likely that you will be seen once a rescue team is sent.
  • Once everything has stopped, it’s essential to remain calm. This will not only help keep you clearheaded and better able to get out of the avalanche but it will also conserve your oxygen, which will quickly become a rare commodity. Calling for help should not be done unless people can actually be heard above you as it will use up a lot of your conserved oxygen.

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