How to Survive
When caught in an avalanche, “you’ve got about three to five seconds to ski off it,” says Jim “Sarge” Conway, a Teton Gravity Research guide who’s survived more than 20 slides, six big enough to be lethal. Maintain your speed and try to ride off the slide at a 45-degree angle. If you get knocked down, dig your ski poles into the snow; your skis will catch on the faster moving ice and spin you into a downhill-facing position. (!!) If you’re unable to escape, traditional avalanche wisdom suggests the swim technique: Backstroke or logroll to stay near the surface and get as far as possible from the front of the avalanche, which is the most turbulent and has the greatest volume of snow. And keep your pack: It may provide buoyancy, as well as protect your spine. But some experts, most notably mountain rescue pro Dale Atkins, have started to question the efficacy of backstroking. Atkins, who also worked as a researcher at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, argues that slide physics forces large objects toward the surface anyway. Victims should instead focus on keeping their hands free to protect their faces and to create an air pocket once the avalanche settles. He may be right: Even dense avalanches are up to 70 percent air, but most people die from carbon dioxide buildup in the snow rather than suffocation. Before the avalanche slows and sets, jam your face into your jacket collar or the crook of your elbow to create an air pocket. Deeply inhale to expand your chest and create breathing space. Most important, carry the right gear.