SLEDsmart! USA Knowledge Base
Module 07 - Emergency Prep & Outdoor Survival
Taking the high ground? Can’t blame you, the powder is usually super fresh and the views are spectacular! However, if you’ll be venturing into avalanche country, you MUST understand the basics of avalanche safety. Is this something snowmobilers need to prep for? Absolutely. Avalanches can occur on any slope steeper than 25° and prime slopes for avalanches are generally 35°-40°… these are slope angles that experienced snowmobilers love to ride.
Unfortunately, snowmobilers are among the top victims of those who get caught or killed in avalanches in North America and in over 90% of these accidents, the snow slide was triggered by members of the snowmobile group. Avalanches are incredibly dangerous but your group can avoid triggering one by always practicing avalanche prevention when riding mountains:
AVALANCHE PREVENTION TIPS:
- Never ride in areas where there was a recent avalanche, it may not be finished.
- Be wary of a fresh snowfall. New snow can weaken the bottom layers of snow by adding weight to them.
- Watch out for wind loading. Wind can cause snow to accumulate 10 times faster than actual snowfall. This rapid accumulation weakens the snow and makes it unstable.
- Don’t ride if it rained. Rainfall can weaken snow quickly making it unstable when it re-freezes.
- Beware of “whumperhing” noises on the mountain. This sound indicates that weaker layers of snow are collapsing. Consider it your cue to exit the area.
- Look out for shooting cracks in the surface of the snow that run across the slope. These cracks indicate that the snow will continue to fracture and will eventually slide downwards creating an avalanche.
- Avoid riding on snow that sounds hollow. There is likely a buried layer of weak snow underneath.
- Don’t ride if you see signs of rapid warming, like small snow balls that have started to roll down the slope. Rapid warming causes the snow to weaken quickly and will likely create unstable conditions.
Never ride in areas with heavy overhanging snow. These overhangs form on the leeward sides of ridge crests and gullies, and if they break off they can easily trigger an avalanche.