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If someone from our group is caught in an avalanche, what can I do to rescue them?

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First - Assess the situation and determine if an active rescue is possible and safe. Many would-be rescuers are caught or killed in follow up avalanches because they acted without assessing the surrounding conditions.

Assuming you have equipment to assist in the rescue follow the guidelines below.

  1. Yell to alert your partners and other people that may be in the area.
  2. Watch the victim!
  3. Memorize the last seen point.
  4. Make sure it is safe to search. Don't become a victim yourself.
  5. Designate a leader and quickly develop a search plan.
  6. Look for surface clues like gloves, boots, and other equipment.
  7. Conduct a beacon search. Get close and probe BEFORE you dig.

The best practice for minimum equipment to take to the backcountry with you are:

  • Avalanche beacon (that you know how to use)
  • Rescue shovel
  • Avalanche probe
  • Extra clothing

If you are the person caught in the avalanche the following actions could help save your life.

From the Forest Service National Avalanche Center

  • Try to ski or board off the slab by maintaining momentum and angling to edge of slide like the very lucky people in video above do.
  • Simultaneously, if you are wearing an Avalung, get it in your mouth
  • If you get knocked down and you have an Air Bag System deploy it.
  • Discard poles (never ski in the backcountry with your pole straps on).
  • Hopefully you have releasable bindings and your skis or board come off; if they do, roll on to your back with your feet downhill. Swim hard upstream to try to get to the rear of the avalanche.
  • Dig into the bed surface to slow you down and let as much debris as possible go past.
  • Grab a tree if you can
  • FIGHT!
  • As the avalanche slows, try to thrust your hand or some part of your body above the surface and then stick a hand in front of your face to make an air space around your mouth.
  • If completely buried, try to remain calm - hopefully your partners have practised rescue techniques and they will quickly find you.

More information regarding avalanches is available at the Canadian Avalanche Association.

  • 3
    Emphasis on the first point. A rescuer's first and most important responsibility is to him- or herself. If a rescuer is injured, that's not only a hand down, it's another victim that needs attention. – Kevin Jan 25 '12 at 18:26
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    Good answer. Also, do some homework. If you are traveling in areas prone to avalanches, you should read a book on avalanche safety and rescue. Unless you are traveling alone, everybody should have avalanche beacons and probes. Some or all should have snow shovels. A snowboard can work for this, but it's not nearly as good. A ski pole will work for a probe, but not really well. You can get details in any of several good books on the subject. – xpda Jan 26 '12 at 3:05
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In addition to Dangeranger's answer: If you as victim have climbing equipment or a rope, fasten it to your body (if not already fastened) and release your rope. It is very, very hard to find avalanche victims, some are not even found after hours of searching. The chance that at least some part of 30 m rope will be over the surface and therefore allows immediate backtracking of the victims position is much, much higher.

  • 3
    Some off-piste skiers tie a tape (eg 2cm wide by 3m long) to their skis, the tape is "stuffed" into the bottom of their trouser legs. When a ski detaches the tape streams out and should make finding it easier when buried under the snow. The trailing rope would do the same job but helps to find a person. – AdrianHHH Jun 28 '17 at 13:12
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The accepted answer gives good advice, which I will not repeat here. But although reading about what to do is much better than not knowing anything about what to do, reading is no substitute for hands-on training.

I thus add this answer for the record: if you are travelling in an area where avalanches are a known danger, take an avalanche training course! Here is one place to start looking for a course: American Institute for Avalanche Rescue and Education. One-day courses may be available, and an investment of one day (or even two) is a good investment in avalanche country. At a bare minimum, get and learn how to use, the equipment listed in the accepted answer.

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