Avalanche Safety Resource Guide

Backcountry recreation has seen a sharp increase in recent years, and each season more people are exploring past the boundaries of designated ski resorts and recreation areas. That’s not to say that an avalanche can’t happen on a ski hill, but it’s far more likely out of bounds in unmanaged terrain. Since 90% of avalanches are triggered by human activity, it’s imperative to learn the danger signs and to learn the best prevention and survival techniques.

Avalanche Safety Basics

When you delve into learning about avalanche safety, first things first. Getting familiar with the mechanics of avalanches is a must. It’s also a good idea to learn some related terminology and have a decent understanding of basic avalanche safety guidelines before going deeper into safety research and training. Get started with the solid information provided on the sites listed in this section.

How Avalanches Work – The experts at How Stuff Works have created this very thorough guide to the inner workings of an avalanche. Complete with highly entertaining videos, this article will get you up to speed on exactly what avalanches are and why they are so dangerous.

NSP Slope Safety – The U.S. National Ski Patrol provides this thorough guide to general avalanche safety. Topics covered include what to pack, red flags to watch for, and even some advice you may not expect (like assessing the relationships between you and your travel companions).

Avalanche Awareness from Mt. Hood – Mount Hood Resort in Oregon has a great page all about avalanche safety, including detailed explanations of the different types of avalanches and how you can best equip yourself to survive one.

Avalanche Weather Forecasting – If you want to go a little further into the inner workings of an avalanche, run through this learning module offered for free by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. You’ll find out how several different factors can converge to create the perfect conditions for a dangerous snowslide.

Avalanche Safety Courses

Avalanche prevention is by far the best way to avoid becoming caught in one. Next comes preparedness. If you are in an avalanche, whether or not you have taken appropriate precautions could make the difference between life and death. Avalanche safety courses will walk you through the tools and tactics you need to survive or to perform an avalanche rescue.

Learn About Avalanche Safety – Backcountry Access has a section on its site dedicated to avalanche safety. Check out their series of videos outlining proper techniques when it comes to loading your backpack with the right equipment, executing a beacon search, and much more.

Online Snowmobile Safety Courses – This site offers official snowmobile safety training courses that you can take online. There are links for state-specific tests, and all include a section regarding avalanche safety. You’ll have to pay for each course, but each has been approved by state and national agencies like parks and recreation divisions.

Online Avalanche Safety Training – Don’t go into the backcountry until you check out this series of free online courses. Each focuses on a particular method or scenario, like routefinding in heavy snow and belaying on a snow slope.

U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center – Follow the links on the site to find specialized avalanche safety courses for skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, and snowmobilers.

Important Avalanche Safety Information

The following sites can be trusted to provide current, factual information about avalanche safety practices. From a very important article assessing the usefulness of emergency beacon software to a comprehensive guide to understanding official avalanche danger ratings, you’ll find a wealth of potentially life-saving information in the pages to follow.

Avalanche Apps Review – This article, provided by the Canadian Avalanche Centre, outlines the pros and cons of using mobile avalanche safety apps. The sobering advice and factual data will help you wade through the hype and find out the reality about using mobile software to help you survive in an avalanche.

Avalanche.org Education Center – Avalanche.org offers safety tutorials, statistical information, state-by-state condition reports and help finding avalanche safety classes in your area.

Avalanche Danger Scale Tutorial – If you plan to visit any avalanche-prone area, it’s vitally important to review and understand avalanche risk ratings. This guide, from the Utah Avalanche Center, provides easy-to-use charts and tables to help you navigate avalanche safety symbols and terminology.

NRCS Snow Data Page – This page is full of data regarding precipitation, snow, ice, and other winter weather conditions in applicable areas of the United States. You can use the pull-down menu to select your desired state, and see real-time information for areas that are equipped with sensors.

Avalanche Safety for Kids

If you live in or plan to visit an area with snowy mountains, don’t forget to educate your kids about the dangers of avalanches and snowslides. Use the following guides, stories, and lessons to help teach young mountaineers how to identify the risks and how to keep themselves safe while enjoying winter recreation.

Weather Wiz Kids Avalanche Safety – This site is just for kids. They can explore extreme weather like lightning storms and tornadoes, find out about forecasting, learn about cloud types, and much more. On the avalanche page, they’ll learn simple lifesaving tips so they’ll know what to do if they are ever caught in one.

Ski Patrol: On Alert for Avalanche Safety – This article, featured on National Geographic Kids, tells the story of a ski patrol member who was inspired to his career after a close call with an avalanche as a boy. Along the way, kids learn a bit about how avalanches happen and what they should do if they are involved in one.

Avalanche Grade School Projects – This e-How article outlines some fun ways to teach grade school kids about avalanche safety, like creating their own safety brochure or experimenting with using a beacon. Use the suggestions to create valuable lesson plans for you class or for your own kids.

How Do Avalanches Form? – PBS Learning Media has a library of free resources for teachers, students, and parents including this Nova video about how avalanches come to be. Check out the other links on the page for additional lessons and information. Note that you’ll need to sign up for a (free) account on the site if you want to look at more than two resources.