How to survive an avalanche

How to survive an avalanche »Play Video
Will it stay or will it go? Test pits help ski patrols and others check the snowpack for avalanche danger.

WILLAMETTE PASS, Ore. - It's a beautiful day, the sun is shining and the snow looks good.

But the next thing you know, you're in the middle of a dangerous situation.

"Scary. I mean it's big and it's fast. You don't realize how fast things are going to happen," said Ski Patroller and Avalanche Adviser John Fischer.

Accidents happen all too often.

"You're buried under six feet of snow by a 50 foot slide, it's just as as if you're buried under 6 feet of snow by a 5,000 foot slide."

According to the Northwest Avalanche Center, 8 people have been killed so far this year in the U.S. from avalanches.
The survival rate for avalanches is slim.

"Half an hour, 50 percent if you're buried," said Fischer. "After half an hour, half the people are dead."

According to Fischer, what kills most people isn't just the fall.

"What kills the people under the snow is suffocation."
So what can you do to save yourself in an avalanche?
Fischer says if you find yourself tumbling down the hill, try and kick off your skis and make a swimming motion with your arms.

"If you hear people looking for you, make a noise, as you're coming to a stop. If you know which way is up, try and get something up, try and get a hand up."

If you can make a dig an air pocket around your mouth to breath.
It's also important to carry tools with you, like a transceiver, a tool that can help people in your party find you if you're stuck.

"I can switch this to search mode, now it tells me how far away, 2.5 meters, and the direction that person is," said Fischer.

The moments after someone is caught in an avalanche are the most critical for survival.

"So what that means of course is the only people who are going to help you, are the people in your party," said Fischer.

But he says the best way to survive an avalanche is to avoid the areas where they happen.

"Just be more careful. if you never ski anything over 25 degrees, you'll virtually have nothing to worry about."

It's important to note that most avalanches occur in back country areas that are not maintained by ski patrol.