10 Snowshoer Avalanche Safety Tips You Need to Know Before Hitting the Trails

Snowshoeing is a great way to enjoy the winter season, but it’s important to be safe while you’re out on the trails. Snowshoer avalanche safety is critical when snowshoeing in the backcountry, and it’s important to know how to avoid dangerous situations.

Follow these 10 snowshoeing avalanche safety tips and you’ll have a safe and enjoyable experience on the trails!

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10 Snowshoer Avalanche Safety Tips

To ensure a memorable and safe snowshoe experience, follow these 10 avalanche safety tips.

Learn how avalanches start

According to the Utah Avalanche center, on average in North America, 30 people die in avalanches each year.

Avalanche fatalities are preventable through awareness and education.

The first step to staying safe while snowshoeing is understanding how avalanches start.

Avalanches are made from three basic components: unstable snow, an avalanche trigger, and avalanche terrain.

Unstable snow can be found on any slope and is created when new snowfall or strong winds cause the formation of a large, unstable snowpack.

An avalanche trigger is anything that causes the unstable snow to slide, such as a skier, snowmobile, increased precipitation, or wind.

Avalanche terrain is any slope that has the potential for an avalanche to occur.

There are three essential parts to an avalanche:

  • Avalanche start zone: The most common origin of avalanches is a slope angle of 30 to 45 degrees. The greatest hazard comes from slopes with few, if any, anchors (trees and other vegetation).

  • Avalanche path or track: On some mountains, these white paths of snow stand out against the tree cover and run down the hillside.

  • Avalanche runout zone: This is where an avalanche stops. The absence of trees and other vegetation is often a sign that you’re in an area where avalanches occur.
Snowshoer avalanche safety

Accessing avalanche risk

Be aware of the surrounding terrain: Past avalanches are an excellent predictor of future slides. Some avalanche paths are easy to recognize; others require a little more effort. Always keep an eye on the slopes above you to identify avalanche terrain and keep a lookout for terrain traps.

Any feature that can make an avalanche more dangerous if you are caught in one is called a terrain trap. Steer clear of these dangers: cliffs, gullies, cornices, or tree wells.

Understand the snowpack: The key to avalanche safety is understanding the snowpack. The snowpack is constantly changing, and it can be difficult to know what conditions are safe. Be sure to check the avalanche forecast before heading out to access the avalanche risk and pay attention to any changes in the snow conditions while you’re on the trails.

Know your limitations: It’s important to know your limitations when it comes to snowshoeing. Don’t attempt to go out in conditions that are beyond your abilities. If you’re not sure how to assess the risk of an avalanche, stick to low-elevation, low-risk routes to snowshoe safely.

Plan your route to minimize risks

Consider using well-maintained trails  You’re less likely to find potentially dangerous terrain on snowshoe trails at resorts or other well-maintained parks. Resort staff constantly monitor avalanche conditions and may even lower the risk of avalanches by triggering controlled slides that move unstable snow within the resort boundaries.

To anticipate avalanche terrain, use a mapping program.: Use mapping programs to help identify avalanche-prone slopes by spotlighting steeper terrain and locations with fewer trees.

You can decrease your risk of being in an avalanche by selecting routes that go through lower angled territory further away from steeper slopes—you should stay clear of any slopes between 30 and 45 degrees.

Sun Company AvaGage - Avalanche Danger Indicator | Skiing and Snowboarding Slope Meter | Trail Inclinometer

This AvaGage snugly aligns with your trekking pole to aid in accurately measuring slope. It can also be permanently affixed to trekking pole with zip-ties for convenience.

Check trail descriptions in guidebooks and online for snowshoe routes that avoid avalanche terrain. Beginners should start with trails identified as being appropriate for novices. Stick to winter routes that avoid a slope angle of more than 30 degrees.

To determine whether a route is hazardous, examine the description carefully. Park rangers may also be able to give you information about the safety of specific trails, as well as any known upcoming weather events.

1. Don’t Go Alone

One of the most important snowshoer avalanche safety tips is to never go alone. It’s always best to snowshoe with at least one other person, and it’s a good idea to let someone know where you’re going before you head out.

In the event of an avalanche, having someone else with you can mean the difference between life and death. If you’re buried in an avalanche, your chances of survival are much higher if someone is there to help dig you out.

Even if you’re an experienced snowshoer, it’s always best to go with a friend. Snowshoeing is more fun when you have someone to share the experience with, and it’s safer, too!

2. Know Your Route

Another important tip is to know your route before you set out. Make sure to map out your intended route and familiarize yourself with the terrain. This will help you to avoid avalanche terrain and stay safe on your snowshoeing adventures.

If you’re unfamiliar with the area, it’s a good idea to check trail descriptions in guidebooks or online. Also, it never hurts to chat with the local winter hikers who will have more knowledge regarding the winter trails. This way, you can make sure you’re choosing a route that is appropriate for your skill level.

Knowing your route is especially important if you’re snowshoeing in backcountry terrain. Backcountry conditions can change quickly, and it’s essential to be prepared for whatever you might encounter.

3. Check the Avalanche Forecast

Before heading out on any snowshoe outings, be sure to check the weather forecast for the mountainous area you’ll be snowshoeing in. Many avalanche-prone areas in the US and Canada are monitored by Avalanche Centers that produce daily avalanche reports. Learning to read and understand these will help you plan your route. The centers also offer basic awareness and education about avalanches. Like the weather, avalanche forecasts change daily.

If you’re driving to the trailhead, be sure to check the winter driving conditions. Many avalanche-prone areas close their roads during periods of high avalanche danger. So, it’s important to know whether or not the road you’re planning to take is open before setting out.

Mountain conditions can be unpredictable, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If there is a chance of an avalanche, it’s best to avoid the area altogether.

4. Wear Appropriate Clothing

When snowshoeing in avalanche-prone areas, it’s important to wear clothing that will help you to stay warm and dry. Layering is key, as you want to be able to remove layers if you start to get too warm. Avoid cotton clothing, as it will absorb moisture and can lead to hypothermia.

Wool or synthetic fabrics are a better choice, as they will help to wick away sweat and keep you warm even when wet. It’s also a good idea to wear waterproof boots and gloves to protect your hands and feet from the cold.

Dressing in appropriate clothing is essential for snowshoer safety. Be sure to check out our article on How to dress for snowshoeing.

5. Bring Essential Gear

If an avalanche occurs there is no time to get outside help, therefore everyone in your party needs to carry avalanche rescue gear and know how to use it.

Essential avalanche safety gear includes a shovel, avalanche probe, and an avalanche transceiver. Having the proper equipment can help you to locate someone who has been buried in an avalanche, and could potentially save their life. Another piece of safety equipment worth investing in is an avalanche airbag, the airbag will increase your surface area and help you to rise to the top of the snow.

It’s also a good idea to bring along a first-aid kit, just in case. You never know when you might need it!

K2 BCA Stealth 270 Avalanche Probe Backcountry Safety Touring New 2015

This sturdy avalanche probe features a fast rip cord deployment system.

6. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

As you’re snowshoeing, always be aware of your surroundings and look for signs of potential avalanches. Some red flags include fresh powder on steep slopes, cracks in the snow, and trees that have been knocked down by previous avalanches. If you see any of these signs, avoid the area and find a different route.

7. Don’t Stop in Dangerous Areas

If you do find yourself in an area that looks dangerous, don’t stop there! Even stopping for a short break can put you at risk if an avalanche were to occur. Instead, keep moving to a safe area where you can take a break out of the danger zone.

8. Listen for Warning Signs

Avalanches can happen without warning, but there are sometimes warning signs that one is about to occur. Be on the lookout for a loud rumble or crackling sound, as these can indicate that an avalanche is about to happen. If you hear either of these sounds, get out of the area immediately!

9. Don’t Panic if an Avalanche Occurs

If you find yourself caught in an avalanche path, try not to panic. Focus on swimming towards the edge of the slide so that you don’t get pulled under by the snow. If you have an avalanche airbag and are caught in the flow, activate the airbag. Once you reach the edge, dig your way out as quickly as possible so that you can get away from the area.

If you’re with someone who gets buried, stay calm and use your avalanche transceiver to locate them. Once you’ve found them, dig them out quickly and get them to safety.

Remember, panicking will only make the situation worse. Stay calm and focus on getting yourself or your group to safety.

10. Avalanche education- get trained

One of the best ways to stay safe while snowshoeing is to get trained in avalanche safety. There are many different avalanche courses available, some online or in person. They can teach you how to avoid dangerous situations and what to do if you find yourself in one.

Taking an avalanche safety course is an investment that could potentially save your life.

Final Thoughts

By following these safety tips, you can help to keep yourself safe while snowshoeing in avalanche-prone areas. Remember, avalanches can happen without warning, so it’s always important to be prepared and aware of your surroundings.

Stay safe out there!

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