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Surviving an Avalanche - Don't Swim

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
http://www.denverpost.com/ci_4550539

Surviving an avalancheThink you know what to do? One local expert says you might be wrongBy Steve Lipsher ,
Denver Post Staff Writer
DenverPost.comArticle Last Updated:
post #2 of 26
Interesting article. I still think I am going to try to stay on top of the slide regardless of what they are thinking. Better yet, I am not going to get caught in a slide in the first place. At least that is my mindset.
post #3 of 26
A few years back I had heard that there was an invention in Europe which essentially acted like a car air bag and inflated in the event of an avalanche to keep the wearer on the surface. Made sense to me, but I have not heard of it since-does anyone know about this and if it is effective?
post #4 of 26
there is this, the Avalung. Extends your survivability by enabling you to breathe even if you're buried. But, there is no replacement for carrying a beacon, shovel and probe, and ski the backcountry with at least 3 people.
post #5 of 26
It didn't say don't swim, it said swimming probably won't help.

I was in a nice one last year. After the rag doll tumbling phase, I was able to swim to the top. I got flipped a few more times but in the end was not buried. If I had to to it again, I'd swim.
post #6 of 26
After being caught in two avy's I would agree with the idea of protecting your breathing space with all of your energy. My second avy was a cornice fall and I dropped quite a ways (maybe 20') before the cornice, which broke under me, caught me. I was covered head down under at least 6-9' of snow.

Dig out took a long time (I really don't know the amount but I estimated it here in other posts before). The only reason I survived was I turtled my head down into my jacket and clothing on the way down. I was falling into deep snow and I knew I would have trouble breathing. I protected my airway, covered up and still had my mouth plugged with snow. After a brief panic, I spit the plug but I could not move anything but my hands. I could breathe and I survived the 30+ minute dig out (to clear my head only).

Swim if you want but you will die a suffocation death if you don't protect your airway.

Mark
post #7 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by icanseeformiles(andmiles) View Post
there is this, the Avalung. Extends your survivability by enabling you to breathe even if you're buried. But, there is no replacement for carrying a beacon, shovel and probe, and ski the backcountry with at least 3 people.
True and very true, but maniac is talking about a big airbag on your back that inflates to keep you near the surface.
post #8 of 26
Wow, Maddog! Do you think you prevented an ice mask from forming by breathing through your clothes? That's sketchy, be careful out there!
post #9 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maddog View Post
After being caught in two avy's I would agree with the idea of protecting your breathing space with all of your energy.

Swim if you want but you will die a suffocation death if you don't protect your airway.

Mark
Interesting stuff...good job in pulling through that one. The two avy's I've been in had a long and recognizable deceleration period. It doesn't sound like your drop ride did. Also interesting that I was mowed down by airborne snow, but did not have a mouth plug

Guess I'd say swim til it starts to slow and pack, then cover your face. That is the scariest moment for sure.

Better yet stay out of the things!
post #10 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maineac View Post
A few years back I had heard that there was an invention in Europe which essentially acted like a car air bag and inflated in the event of an avalanche to keep the wearer on the surface. Made sense to me, but I have not heard of it since-does anyone know about this and if it is effective?
You mean this...
http://www.avalanchebackpack.com/
post #11 of 26
There is a great article and video about the avalung here: http://www.couloirmag.com/articles/d...?articleID=144

People have been test-buried using the Avalung for up to 2 hours under the snow pack; there was a survivor in an avalanche several years ago heli skiing in BC who was under for >20 minutes. He survived without problems but his 2 companions were dead when extricated. I have no doubts that this is a valuable tool for BC skiers.
post #12 of 26
Thanks dp, that was exactly what I was looking for. Here in New England we know that the rocks make there way to the top of the fields every spring. So the reasoning in the article Lone Pine posted about big things floating up brought back memories of the "airbag". I have a probe, shovel and beacon. Having taken the level 1 and level 2 avi course I know how little I know about predicting avalanches. The backpack seems to be what makes the most sense if you are to expose yourself. Anyone know why we do not hear more about the avalanche bakcpakc?
post #13 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maineac View Post
Thanks dp, that was exactly what I was looking for. Here in New England we know that the rocks make there way to the top of the fields every spring. So the reasoning in the article Lone Pine posted about big things floating up brought back memories of the "airbag". I have a probe, shovel and beacon. Having taken the level 1 and level 2 avi course I know how little I know about predicting avalanches. The backpack seems to be what makes the most sense if you are to expose yourself. Anyone know why we do not hear more about the avalanche bakcpakc?
They are expensive, heavy, and don't carry other gear very well. I think it could be a good tool, but would it cause people to be less risk adverse?
post #14 of 26
zzz- I think your question has been asked about nearly every safety item that has come down the pike, from helmets to the avalung. Asked, of course, but never really answered. Personally, I think that good safety gear (that really works) doesn't make you less risk averse any more than driving with a seat belt makes you more likely to drive like a maniac, but that may not be the case for everyone. The more I learn about back country risks the more caution I have, and that is the motivation for using a device like the avalung- I think that I am perhaps even more risk averse, but am maximizing my chances if my (or my partner's) judgement fails. One of the developers of the avalung is on the faculty here at CU, and hearing his lecture at a CO Center for Altitude Medicine seminar made a believer out of me!

There was a really great article in Couoir a year or two ago about the heuristics of decision making in the back country. I cannot seem to find it on their website, but it is probably there somewhere- definitely worth reading and has significant bearing on this issue.

David
post #15 of 26
Yikes! Avalanches? I'm going skiing in Colorado for the first time this winter; do they have avalanches on the low-intermediate slopes? (Just wanting to forestall anticipatory avalanche nightmares, if possible)
Thanks in advance for any mind easing.
post #16 of 26
It's my understanding that the snow hardens fast after the avalanch. All of the tools, the avalung and the like would seem to be useless if you couldn't move your hands to make it work.

An airbag device might be good but how would it know to go off. It seems like you would need to push a button or something like that to inflate the thing?

Also, has any one ever considered adding an O2 cartridge to the avalung.
post #17 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by kayandallie View Post
Yikes! Avalanches? I'm going skiing in Colorado for the first time this winter; do they have avalanches on the low-intermediate slopes? (Just wanting to forestall anticipatory avalanche nightmares, if possible)
Thanks in advance for any mind easing.
NO.

Absolutely no need for further elaboration.

J
post #18 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Jones View Post
It's my understanding that the snow hardens fast after the avalanch. All of the tools, the avalung and the like would seem to be useless if you couldn't move your hands to make it work.

An airbag device might be good but how would it know to go off. It seems like you would need to push a button or something like that to inflate the thing?

Also, has any one ever considered adding an O2 cartridge to the avalung.
The idea is to have the breathing tube near your mouth while on risky slopes and to put it in and clamp down if you get caught. As far as the avy pack, it has a ripcord that you pull to activate it.

I'm sure the O2 cartridge has been discussed, but lack of o2 in the snow is not the problem, its the ice mask from your exhalation that prevents you from getting it. Thats what the avalung prevents by sending the exhaled air away from where you're drawing in O2.
post #19 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by kayandallie View Post
Yikes! Avalanches? I'm going skiing in Colorado for the first time this winter; do they have avalanches on the low-intermediate slopes? (Just wanting to forestall anticipatory avalanche nightmares, if possible)
Thanks in advance for any mind easing.

Heck, they have avalanches on the roads just driving to the resort. A few years ago a Honda Civic rode an entire switchback on Berthod pass.

As far as intermediate runs, well, one area in the Northwest had an avy go one kilometer down a run called Marshmellow. Luckily, it happened at night.

Then there was the kid swept off a lift in California last year.

Hope that helps your nightmares .
post #20 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by kayandallie View Post
Yikes! Avalanches? I'm going skiing in Colorado for the first time this winter; do they have avalanches on the low-intermediate slopes? (Just wanting to forestall anticipatory avalanche nightmares, if possible)
Thanks in advance for any mind easing.
All the time. In fact those are known as the "killing fields" at most resorts. :
post #21 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by zion zig zag View Post
The idea is to have the breathing tube near your mouth while on risky slopes and to put it in and clamp down if you get caught. As far as the avy pack, it has a ripcord that you pull to activate it.

I'm sure the O2 cartridge has been discussed, but lack of o2 in the snow is not the problem, its the ice mask from your exhalation that prevents you from getting it. Thats what the avalung prevents by sending the exhaled air away from where you're drawing in O2.
The tube is fairly rigid and can be positioned near the mouth. You should have time to clamp down if the slope fractures without actually starting a descent with it in your mouth. FWIW, I am buying the Black Diamond Covert backpack with integrated avalung this year. Based on my limited experience in a tree well in powder snow, forming an ice mask would be a luxury compared to the choking plug that seems to immediately form with the first inhalation. At that point, no air moves unless you can eject that plug. In high altitude, in combination with panic (fast breathing rate), I think the survival expecations of 15 minutes for a buried victim are generous. An assured airway makes survival a possibility. I put a premium on avoidance, but its nice to have a plan B. About the only thing we can control really is our exposure to risk; and unfortunately we are fallable.
post #22 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cirquerider View Post
The tube is fairly rigid and can be positioned near the mouth. You should have time to clamp down if the slope fractures without actually starting a descent with it in your mouth. FWIW, I am buying the Black Diamond Covert backpack with integrated avalung this year. Based on my limited experience in a tree well in powder snow, forming an ice mask would be a luxury compared to the choking plug that seems to immediately form with the first inhalation. At that point, no air moves unless you can eject that plug. In high altitude, in combination with panic (fast breathing rate), I think the survival expecations of 15 minutes for a buried victim are generous. An assured airway makes survival a possibility. I put a premium on avoidance, but its nice to have a plan B. About the only thing we can control really is our exposure to risk; and unfortunately we are fallable.
I can see it happening when caught in an avi, but do you have time to get the tube into your mouth during a fall, say into a tree well.
post #23 of 26
The problem with the tree well was unconsolidated snow. I don't think that its a problem moving hands and positioning the tube; the problem is getting back upright while all the loose crystals block your air. Hard to explain, but the snow might just as well be water for its effectiveness to stop you from breathing, even though it looks light and full of air.
post #24 of 26

Human Factors in Decision Making - Ian McCammon ISSW 2002 article

Quote:
Originally Posted by dp View Post
There was a really great article in Couloir a year or two ago about the heuristics of decision making in the back country. I cannot seem to find it on their website, but it is probably there somewhere- definitely worth reading and has significant bearing on this issue.

David
Are you referring to this article which talked about familiarity, social proof, commitment and scarcity traps?

"Evidence of heuristic traps in recreational avalanche accidents" by Ian McCammon ISSW 2002 http://www.snowpit.com/articles/traps%20reprint.pdf

* The familiarity trap appeared to be triggered by previous experience with the avalanche slope, and was most likely to affect victims with significant avalanche training.

* The social proof trap was triggered by the presence of other people. Its influence was strongest in groups of three to four and in victims with formal avalanche training.

* The commitment trap was triggered by commitment to a specific goal, and was evident in all groups where there was sufficient data for comparison.

* Finally, the scarcity trap was triggered by a combination of other people nearby and an untracked slope, and was most likely to influence groups of two through four people.
post #25 of 26
Thanks, y'all!
post #26 of 26
Ski03- yes, that's it. Thanks for the reference.
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