You have your sled, there are several feet of snow on the mountain, and you’re itching to ride! Now before you put your helmet on and start that engine, there are several crucial do’s and don’ts you need to know and follow about snowmobile avalanche safety and awareness.
- Check avalanche forecast and scale before going out (avalanche.org)
- Every rider needs working gear! Each rider needs a transmitting avalanche beacon, a probe, and a shovel. For extra protection it is recommended to have an avalanche airbag backpack. (We have all the safety equipment you need in store and on gearhead.com https://www.gearhead.com/s/search/products/query/Avalanche.
- Check avalanche gear before you leave to make sure everything is working correctly.
- Keep your avalanche gear on your person, not on your sled. (If you are thrown from your sled, your avalanche gear will be out of reach for you to use.)
- Always wear a helmet when riding. (Full-face helmets provide extra safety.)
- Practice using your avalanche gear or take a class. Check with your local Parks & Rec or Search & Rescue Departments for classes) https://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/events-calendar
Riding Tips for Avalanche Terrain
- Have a riding partner; never ride alone.
- Only ONE rider on the slopes at a time! You need to keep an eye on your partner or group member when they are riding.
- Don’t park your sled on the bottom of a steep slope; park on the side of the slope instead.
- Limit to riding groups to 3 to 4 people. (It is safer to ride with smaller groups.) If you choose to bring more than 4 people, do not split up the group.
- Test the stability on a small bank/slope before riding up high.
- Don’t assume a slope is safe to ride just because you see tracks on the hill.
- ANY slope steeper than 25 degrees can potentially slide. Slopes with a 30 to 60 degree incline are extremely prone to an avalanche.
- Periodically stop your machine, remove your helmet, and walk around to get a feel for the snow and listen/look around the area for any signs of unstability. (New snow, wind loading, rain, hollow-sounding snow, or rapid warming.)
- Choose slopes that have been stripped by the wind, or fan-shaped at the bottom with no obstacles like trees or rocks.
- Avoid “terrain traps:” gullies, steep-sided creek bottoms, or slopes ending in deep depressions.
- Don’t ride on slopes with cliffs below.
- If you choose to ride on “unstable days,” choose slopes that steep 25 degrees or lower and are not connected to a steeper slope.
Avalanche Rescue Tips
- There is a 15-minute window before a buried rider/victim can die from asphyxia.
- If you are the victim
- Keep your pack on to provide some flotation.
- Try to stay on the sled and ride out to the side.
- If you are knocked from your sled, push away from the sled and fight to stay on the top of the moving snow.
- Roll on your back; you have better survival odds if you are face-up.
- As the avalanche slows, put your hands up, and expand your chest to create air space.
- If you are the rescuer
- Watch your partner as they ride so you can track where you saw them last and mark it.
- Conduct initial search. (Use beacon, probe, or look for markers.)
- Most riders are within 200 feet of their machine. Often victims are upslope within 40 feet of the machine.
- When found: dig fast and free the mouth and chest first.
- Have first-aid materials on hand and be prepared to handle and airway issues, hypothermia, or blunt-force injuries.
Remember to stay alert when you are out riding. You don’t have to be on a steep slope to cause an avalanche, just in the vicinity. Your best bet is to stay a long distance from any ridge. Always bring your avalanche gear no matter the conditions: you never know when you will need to use them.
Be smart. Wear your gear. Stay alert.
Video Credit: Jody Trawicki Published on Feb 25, 2016
Check http://www.saferiderssafetyawareness.org/avoiding-avalanches-while-snowmobiling.html for more details.