Avalanche Safety - Know your snow

an avalanche producing big clouds of snow spilling over pine trees on snow covered mountainsKnow Your Snow BEFORE You Go: Avalanche season is underway

Can you identify avalanche terrain? Analyze snow stability? Do you have the tools you need? Can you carry out a fast and effective Rescue? If the answer to any of these is no or you aren't sure, you may need to increase your avalanche "know-how" before your trip into the backcountry.

Much of the terrain throughout the Rocky Mountain region is subject to snow avalanches. This year there have been numerous injuries and fatalities associated with avalanches.

Backcountry users should be aware of potential risk AND be skilled at recognizing potential avalanche areas and snowpack conditions and act accordingly. Perform careful snowpack evaluations, stability tests. There are plenty of routes for safer backcountry travel in avalanche country. Be able to recognize and use them as needed.

Avalanche potential increases with increasing slope angle, snowfall, rain, wind, changing temperatures, other factors. Avalanche hazard can escalate in a very short time. No avalanche training? Consider getting some. Until then stick to low profile, non-avalanche prone terrain.

Ski/snowboard resorts provide a high level of avalanche control on their managed slopes within bounds. Stay inbounds and remember that during severe weather events, even these areas may be subject to elevated avalanche conditions.

To stay safe:

Get the training:

Get the advisory:

  • Get the current conditions from your local avalanche center at National Avalance Center Get the Advisory.  Avoid avalanche terrain during periods of elevated avalanche danger.

Get the gear:

  • When travelling in avalanche terrain, all members of your party need avalanche rescue gear, such as a transceiver, probes shovel and backpack.
  • One important tool you cannot buy is a partner. Never go alone.

Get the signs:

The three conditions of unstable snow that can cause an avalanche are:

  • slopes steeper than 35 degrees
  • snowpack weakness, including recent avalanches, 
  • collapsing snow that makes a “whumpf” sound, and cracks shooting out in front of your skis or over snow vehicle when you are travelling through the snow.

When planning your winter adventure into the backcountry, remember:

  • You are responsible for your own safety and that of those around you
  • be avalanche savy - take a certified avalanche course
  • know the avalanche danger/conditions where you will be recreating
  • have these safety items and know how to use them: shovel, beacon, and probe

Safety is of great importance to the Forest Service, whether it is to help ensure the safety of our employees or our visitors. There are inherent dangers in the outdoors. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the safety of themselves and others around them.

For more information about being safe on national forests and grasslands, visit the agency’s Know Before You Go.

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