We want to make every trip a round trip and to be able to return to enjoy many more days in the backcountry.
Getting out of harm’s way and staying safe in the backcountry is about picking the appropriate terrain for your group and for the conditions. When getting the picture, we identify avalanche terrain. The best way to get out of harm’s way is to avoid avalanche terrain, especially if you haven’t taken a formal avalanche course. Some people who’ve taken courses may choose to enter avalanche terrain on certain days and with certain partners. In this case, getting out of harm’s way involves knowing when and where to go and how to travel.
Like other activities in the mountains, backcountry travel has inherent risks. Sometimes the most dangerous part of the day is driving to the trailhead. While no day can be completely safe, there are decisions we can make to avoid exposing our group to unnecessary risks. When we talk about exposure to avalanche danger, we typically think about the amount of time, distance traveled, or your location within avalanche terrain. By reducing our exposure to the terrain where the avalanche hazard exists, we reduce our risk of being caught in an avalanche. Again, the easiest way to get out of harm’s way is to avoid avalanche terrain altogether.
Some other things you can do to get out of harm’s way are:
- Stay out of closed areas and don’t cross ropes or closed gates at ski areas or on highways
- Stop, regroup, and take breaks in non-avalanche terrain, well away from places where avalanches could run from above
- If you choose to cross or travel on slopes steeper than 30 degrees, put only 1 person at a time on the slope
- Keep your group within visual and voice contact with your group
- Clearly communicate with about the location of avalanche terrain and nearby safer terrain as well as a plan for travel and regrouping
- If necessary, use visual signals or two-way radios to communicate at a distance
- If a partner loses a ski or gets their snowmobile stuck on a slope, don’t help them. Watch them from safer terrain out from under the slope
If you don’t know how to identify avalanche terrain or you’re not sure, you can learn from an avalanche course. Getting out of harm’s way means avoiding or minimizing your exposure to avalanche terrain.