Skiing at a resort and skiing out of bounds each has its own very different risks and rules.
Everyone going into potential avalanche terrain should carry a beacon, shovel and probe and know how to use them, says Zach Guy, director of the Crested Butte Avalanche Center. An avalanche beacon transmits a radio signal that can be received by other beacons within a range of about 50 meters, he says. If a member of your party gets buried, they typically have 15 minutes or less before they will suffocate underneath the snow. If everyone has a beacon, rescuers can follow the radio signal, which gives directional and distance readings, to find a precise location where the buried victim is under the snow. Then you use your avalanche probe to pinpoint their location before digging.
Mr. Guy also recommends having airbag packsbags with a massive balloon inside that inflates when you pull a handle to keep you floating on top of the snow. They can significantly increase your odds of surviving an avalanche, he says.
He says anyone venturing into unmonitored mountain territory should be prepared to survive a night, in the event they are immobilized by injury or avalanche. You should also carry food, water, a communication device, warm layers and a first-aid kit, he says.
A slope meter, which measures how steep the terrain is, can be your cheapest insurance of all, he says. Avalanches occur on steep terrain, and there is always some uncertainty when assessing snowpack, he says. The most reliable technique is to avoid avalanche terrain.
If you avoid slopes of more than about 30 degrees, he says, you can essentially avoid all but the most unusual avalanches. He strongly encourages anyone new to back-country skiing to take an avalanche course. The U.S. averages about 30 avalanche fatalities per year, more than any other natural disaster, he says.
A Level 1 avalanche course is generally a three-day introduction to the concepts of avalanche terrain management, snowpack assessment, route planning, decision making and rescue. Even if youre experienced, should you buddy up with someone if youre going into avalanche terrain, he says. Companion rescue is really your only chance of survival if you get buried.