Avalanche Safety: How Prepared Are You?

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Avalanche deaths are rising at an alarming rate in the United States. In Utah alone avalanches cause 64 percent of deaths caused by natural disasters. Earlier this month, a snowmobiler was killed in an avalanche in Richfield. Although winter in Utah has been milder than in years past, events like these are reminders of the seriousness of natural disasters and how important it is to know what to do in these situations.

The Utah Avalanche Center in Salt Lake City offers the “Know Before You Go” education program, equipped to fit the needs of all skill levels.

“The program is basic avalanche education for all users including skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers to hunters and hikers — anyone that is in the snow,” said Craig Gordon, a forecaster for the UAC.

Gordon developed the program which offers a 15-minute video and a PowerPoint presentation available on the UAC website in addition to the class. Over the years it has reached more than 100,000 students and is currently taught in Utah junior high and high schools. The goal of the program is to educate snow enthusiasts on avalanche safety and tips.

“The beauty of the program is that the information can be for any user — not limited to just the advanced skiers or boarders,” Gordon explained.

Since December through February have the highest avalanche fatalities, the center provides classes in addition to the “Know Before You Go” program until the end of March. Ranging from weekend workshops to Q-and-A sessions, the UAC is focused on educating the public. Although classes and workshops cost a considerable amount of money ($100 to $1,000 per course) the UAC also offers a number of free talks discussing the basics of avalanche safety. These classes are ideal for the average college skier or snowboarder.

Gabe Garcia works for Ski Patrol at Alta Resort during the day and teaches the “Snow and Avy workshop” at night.

“It’s a great public resource. There is a lot of information, you just have to take the time to learn it,” Garcia explained. “It’s the white, educated, 27- to 30-year-old males that are the ones getting killed from avalanches.”

Those caught in avalanches face extreme conditions. Survivors describe the snow immediately turning into concrete and after 15 minutes of being trapped, survival rates drop from 70 percent to 20 percent.

For those considering avalanche training, Garcia recommends taking the basic level courses because they take participants to ski resorts and show the layers of avalanche-like snow. With this valuable information, these classes can help thrill seekers be a little safer on the mountain.

All statistics compiled from the Utah Avalanche Center website, and more information about classes and avalanche facts can be found at utahavalanchecenter.org/resources/stats

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