White Death moving down the mountainside above the trains. Relentlessly it advanced, exploding, roaring, rumbling, grinding, snapping – a crescendo of sound that might have been the crashing of ten thousand freight trains.
Charles Andrews (Steven’s Pass – Gateway to Seattle)
Avalanches happen when loose snow deposited on the mountain slide down triggered by natural or man made causes. What starts off as a slide of loose snow becomes a full blown avalanche due to gravity, as the sliding snow gathers speed and momentum and accumulates more snow in its wake.
Avalanches can be triggered by natural causes such as earthquakes, strong winds and heavy snow storms or by humans such as when skiing or when using explosives. The Earthquakes on Everest in Late April 2015 and more recently on Mt. Steele in Yukon where nearly 60 million tons of snow was displaced were caused by natural factors. Human factors such as while skiing or explosions called controlled avalanches to clear unstable snow can also trigger avalanches. Below is an interesting infographic on the causes of an avalanche and how they get triggered.
Getting stuck inside an avalanche can be terrifying in the least and fatal at worst. The accumulation of hard snow and rocks become a fast approaching projectile that uproots trees and swallowing up and tossing around everything in its path like a giant washing machine.
A Video introduction to Avalanches
Nothing can match the awesome power of avalanches like a video footage. Watch the massive power avalanches taken in these videos.
1. Avalanche 101 from National Geographic
2.A Controlled Avalanche in Norway
3. Big Avalanche Videos
4. Skiers trigger avalanches
5. Russian Soldiers Create An Avalanche By Firing Artillery
Surviving an Avalanche
Modern technologies and techniques greatly improve the chances of surviving an avalanche as well as improving rescue operations after an avalanche. As an initial step, most ski or climbing areas are cleared of avalanche prone loose snow through various techniques such as controlled explosions before they open for the public. Many areas also have physical barriers built along the slopes of the mountain to control or prevent the flow of the avalanche into inhabited areas.
This photo above taken by me during our Elbrus climb shows avalanche barriers that are built into the slopes of the mountain to stymie the flow of the snow down to the village.
But what if you are there on the mountains and there is an avalanche? What do you do? How do you survive?
In most cases, you are required to carry some basic essentials such as beacons, shovels and robes. There are other tools that are also available such as breathing apparatus and air bags are used in the case that you get buried in the avalanche. In the article by The Clymb titled 6 Tips For Surviving An Avalanche, the author provides some basic information on techniques that you can use to survive such as:
- Moving Sideways
- Jump Upslope
- Carry an Avalanche Beacon
- Grab Something
- Swim and
- Create an Air Pocket
A more detailed instruction with pictures in given on How To Survive An Avalanche in WikiHow.
Avalanche Survival & Rescue Videos
Avalanche rescue missions are a high stakes game where tools, time and experience make the difference between life and death. Rescue teams need to respond fast and work hard in unknown terrain to locate, identify and rescue victims. Here are some interesting videos of how avalanche rescue teams do their wonderful job.
1. Banff National Park Rescue Video
Banff, Yoho and Kootenay rescue specialists received a report of several people buried in an avalanche — not all wearing beacons. The team moved quickly with several different pieces of equipment including a trained avalanche rescue dog, avalanche search beacons, Recco search beacon, SKED sled, Akia toboggan, ropes and hardware, vacuum mattresses and first-aid equipment including oxygen.
2. Surviving an Avalanche from CBS News
Another video from CBS News, Surviving an avalanche: Rescue team shows how it’s done, gives a detailed account of how avalanche rescuers prepare and respond to avalanche situations.
3. How to Survive a Potentially Dangerous Avalanche
A detailed account of how
4. Skier Saved from avalanche by using Air Bag
Avalanche Safety Tips
This infographic from Coloradoan explains the causes of an avalanche as well as the tools and equipments that are needed for rescue.
This is a nice piece of infographic that is available that summarizes all the tips needed to survive an avalanche.
Avalanche Survival Stories
As a conclusion, here are some educational stories of people who have been on an avalanche and survived.