Backcountry Snowboarding Safety – Avalanches
Not every snowboarder heads for a well organised snowboarding holiday and instead simply decides to head off to some snowy location and start snowboarding. The first thing I have to say here is that if you are a beginner then DO NOT do this!
Backcountry snowboarding is the pursuit of heading to some snowy mountain location far from the well known resorts and far from other people. It’s part mountain climbing and part snowboarding. Before snowboarding became a respected pastime this was pretty much what all snowboarders did as there was no alternative. Nowadays there are many alternatives as we do of course have many resorts that are suitable for snowboarding.
If you are a more advanced boarder and you wish to go backcountry snowboarding then keep in mind that if something does happen to go wrong then you are on your own!
A reasonably common problem is avalanches.
How to survive an avalanche:
The very first thing you should try to do if you become aware that an avalanche is starting is to move sideways away from your current course of direction. Avalanches have their main bulk of activity around the center so by moving as far to the side as possible you aim to reach the less active part of the avalanche.
With backcountry snowboarding there is one main cause of an avalanche – and that one cause is you! So if you are snowboarding down the slope and you see/feel the snow below and front starting to show signs of an avalanche then try stop and move back up the slope. Doing this places you above the start of the avalanche activity and keeps you out of the potentially dangerous conditions developing ahead. This is all sounds very logical but this is quite a tricky thing to do. First you have to be ‘aware’ that an avalanche is starting and secondly you have to be able to stop and climb above the place where you stop to get in to the safer position. With life and death situations however its worth knowing every option.
If backcountry snowboarding is going to be something you’ll end up doing then always carry an avalanche beacon. This device alerts rescue teams to your location should you become trapped under the snow after an avalanche has taken place. Also useful of course if you have any kind of accident and you are on your own and need help.
Snow in movement has similar fluid properties to water. So if you do happen to find yourself swept along by an avalanche then start and maintain a swimming motion and just like swimming in water, keep your head above the snow so that you can breath.
If you find yourself trapped underneath snow then try as soon as possible to create a breathing space in front of you. The space you create can hold enough oxygen for 30 minutes to an hour or even longer if you can make a larger breathing space. The better you do this the better chances you give yourself of surviving.
As mentioned at the start of this page, if you are a beginner at snowboarding then please avoid backcountry snowboarding and head for organized snowboarding resorts.