Have you ever wondered how to survive an avalanche on a snowmobile? This is a topic not to be taken lightly. Unfortunately avalanches do occur and lives are lost because of them.
We hope you and your friends are never involved in an avalanche, but if you are, consider the information we provide below as tips for increasing your odds of survival in the event of an avalanche while snowmobiling.
How Do You Survive An Avalanche On A Snowmobile?
Before we get started we would like to say that these are just tips and will not guarantee survival. If we could guarantee survival we would be swimming in money and we aren’t. Let’s get to it!
Get the training
You probably saw this one coming. Take the time, spend the money and educate yourself. Taking avalanche safety courses is always a great idea. If you really want to increase your odds of surviving an avalanche on a snowmobile you will take avalanche courses.
These courses will not only teach you how to survive yourself, but also teach you how to help save others who may be trapped in an avalanche. They also will train you on how to avoid avalanches.
One resource we highly recommend checking out is The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, AIARE. They are a nonprofit educational organization that has developed a strong research based curriculum serviced to over 100 providers.
You may be familiar with this organization through the various sled giveaways they have been involved in such as the Rob “RMR” Kincaid tribute sled.
Another name you may be familiar with is Mike Duffy. Every year Mike travels across the United States providing different levels of avalanche classes. He is based out of Silverton Colorado and works with the Silverton Avalanche School as well as avalanche1.com.
Mike is a great guy with a surplus of avalanche safety knowledge and helpful tips to keep you safe while out on the mountain. Take a look at Mike’s classes to better your chances of surviving an avalanche on a snowmobile.
Know the conditions
The most ideal situation would be avoiding avalanches completely. The fact of the matter though is that mother nature is not always the most predictable.
No matter how much research and studying goes into the conditions and identifying risks there are always cases where an avalanche has occurred even though nothing suggested there was even a risk. Sometimes the least expected slopes slide. This is why it is important we have the training and understand the risks no matter what.
With that said we can still check avalanche forecasts prior to heading out for the day. Familiarizing yourself with the area you will be riding and looking at reports generated locally can help you understand what the conditions are and what avalanche activity there has been and where.
This can be used to avoid areas of higher risk. Same goes for checking the local weather channels. Apps such as The Weather Channel, Avalanche Forecast and many others can be used to check the conditions and make your day of riding much safer.
If the conditions and forecasts suggest a high risk don’t venture into those areas. Instead stay on lower, less steep elevations and take it easy that day. If you can’t do this then stay home and check the conditions again tomorrow. We promise you riding on a high risk day is definitely not worth the risk of losing the life of a buddy or your own.
Use Appropriate Avalanche Safety Gear
We have really already talked about being prepared without actually saying it, but when it comes to getting the right gear, we mean it when we say “be prepared”. Getting the proper gear will cost you a few dollars, but a dollar sign cannot be put on safety. Having avalanche gear protects you and your riding partners. Do not go up the mountain without it!
Gear you will need to purchase includes an inflatable avalanche backpack, an avalanche beacon, a probe and a shovel. We also suggest including a BCA Link 2.0 radio into your gear set-up for communicating with your group. These items are an investment and will make your experiences snowmobiling much more enjoyable and a whole lot safer.
A full set of avalanche gear will run you around $1200 USD. You may be able to do a little better than this and you can definitely spend a lot more on it if you would like to.
One of the most expensive items in this list is the avalanche backpack. This is no regular backpack. This avalanche backpack has a handle on one of your shoulder straps that can be pulled to deploy a large airbag out the back of the backpack that is designed to keep you floating towards the top of the avalanche.
Some are also designed to help provide support for your neck and head as you get tossed around. Many of these avalanche backpacks are powered by air cylinders carried with the backpack, but others are powered by battery packs built to withstand extreme cold temperatures.
Countless lives have been saved because of the use of an avalanche backpack. Along with the airbag that fills up to keep you afloat in an avalanche, some of these avalanche backpacks provide additional pockets and straps for things such as shovels, probes, snacks and pretty much whatever else you would want to bring with you.
The most necessary piece of avalanche safety equipment to have on you, in our opinion and most others, is an avalanche beacon. Without this your chances of being found if buried are much less.
In order for these to work you must make sure your riding partners are also equipped and have know how to use them. There are many different avalanche beacons to choose from varying in price, but you can expect to spend around $250 to $350 USD. See our article on How to Use an Avalanche Beacon for a complete guide on how to effectively use an avalanche beacon.
The last two items to talk about here are a good shovel and a probe. Both of these items could be needed to help you find a buried rider. After using your beacon to locate a buried rider you will want to work promptly with your probe to identify the buried rider under the snow instead of wasting your time right away digging a hole and not finding the rider.
Push down gently through the snow until you find a solid object. You will know the difference between a rock and a body, trust me. Once Identified you will use your shovel to dig out the rider as fast as you can.
We hope this helps you realize just how important the proper safety gear is to have on you. Having this gear or not could literally be the difference between life and death for you or your riding partners. Don’t take the risk of not having the proper gear because you do not want to spend the money. Get equipped and stay safe!
Ride in a group
We cannot stress riding in a group enough. Your riding partners could be your life line and likewise you for them. Chances are your riding partners are good friends that you have known for years and likely have a high amount of trust in.
If not, get to know the people you are planning on riding with and make sure they all have adequate avalanche training and the proper safety gear. Another good practice to do with your group before every ride is to talk about your plans for the ride as far as where you will be going, what conditions you will be riding in, what kind of riding you will be doing and other things such as who will lead the pack and who will trail the pack.
There really is no such thing as being over prepared for snowmobiling. The unexpected is expected in this outdoor activity. Almost every ride requires some sort of change in plans and improvising.
What to do in the event of an avalanche
What you do during an avalanche obviously depends on if you are actually in the avalanche or not. Hopefully you realize an avalanche is about to take place before it fully engulfs you. As a rider in an avalanche you will want to do your best to remain calm. This is likely going to be the most difficult part for you.
Remaining calm can alleviate a lot of stress and keep you from panicking your way into a worse situation. Do your best to stay with your snowmobile if at all possible. This will also be difficult as holding onto a snowmobile while riding on flat ground can be hard enough on its own let alone trying to do it while sliding or rolling down a hill.
By staying with your snowmobile you create a much larger visual for riders not in the avalanche that will hopefully be coming to your rescue once the avalanche comes to a stop. It also will help protect you from getting hit by large debris within the avalanche. With all this said, it is fairly common to become separated from your snowmobile especially in a larger avalanche.
The next thing to be thinking about, that you should be doing simultaneously is pulling the cord on your avalanche backpack to deploy the inflatable airbag. This is going to help you stay near the top of the avalanche and also give onlookers a bright, usually orange or red, object to look for while you slide down the mountainside.
While in the avalanche make a swimming motion with your arms to help you stay on top. Your backpack is going to help you with this as previously mentioned, but the swimming motion has been proven to be effective in keeping avalanche victims closer to the top of the debris.
Once you have done these things the rest is out of your control. To sum it up- stay calm, stay with your sled if possible, deploy your avalanche backpack and make a swimming motion with your arms.
If you are fortunate enough to not be in the avalanche, but one of your riding partners is, make sure you are in a safe location where the avalanche will not get you if possible. Do your best to keep eyes on the rider in the avalanche to get the best idea where they are when it comes to a stop.
If the rider is not spotted when it has came to a stop use your beacon in search mode to start looking for the buried rider. You will want to do a wide “S” pattern over the debris until you locate where the rider is. Once you believe you have found the spot grab your probe and push it down until you locate the buried rider.
Once you have identified a rider under the debris, start shoveling as fast as you can. Time is of the essence here. It does not take long for a rider buried in snow to suffocate. Keeping this in mind you also need to be semi gently as you do not want to injure the buried rider with your shovel. Get the debris off the riders face and chest first to release the pressure off their organs.
Once the buried rider is fully removed from the debris, evaluate them for injuries and treat them as needed. If injuries are too substantial to treat with the equipment you have on hand, call for a helicopter air lift if possible.
Once all injuries are addressed and everyone is okay, see if you can locate the sled if it separated from the buried rider. Finally make a plan amongst the group to return to the lodge and then maybe take tomorrow off and relax.
Surviving An Avalanche On A Snowmobile Is Possible
We hope you never have to experience an avalanche, but if you do we hope that this article had some advice in it that was helpful and life saving. If you have any questions or anything you would like to add to this topic feel free to reach out to us on any social platform @sledheadzzz or drop a comment below.
Make safety a priority so you and your friends can enjoy the sport for years to come. Braap on!