I know you’ll be surprised to discover this, but I am not a back-country skier, snowboarder, snowshoe-er, or snowmobile-er. Indeed, I do not do any of these things even in the front country, so I’m not sure what caused me to click on the link, but click I did. Maybe it was the promise of a three-minute read.
How to Survive an Avalanche
Boy, some folks can pack a lot into three minutes. Here are the key points, lightly paraphrased/editorialized/digressed-upon:
- Abandon (no, no, not hope) your equipment. It can fend for itself. (Where the heck “fend” comes from is a topic for another day.)
- Take shelter if you can. Think something big enough that an avalanche won’t push it over.
- No shelter available? Try to swim in the snow and move toward the edge of the avalanche. DO NOT swim over any cliffs or even among boulders.
- As you’re about to be swamped by snow, abandon hope. No, no, take a deep breath and cover your nose and mouth with your hand.
- After you’re buried in the snow, bring your hands up to your face (OK, one hand should already be there) so you can clear a space in the snow right in front of it. You know, for breathing.
Then it really gets interesting, with instructions for aiding your own rescue. It starts with suggesting you wiggle a hand/arm up to the surface, both to make an air channel (you know, for breathing) and (I assume) to be able to stick your hand out to be seen.
Then it gets to the best part: If you can dig in the snow, start digging towards the surface. But first, figure out which way is up.
Ah. Yes. That would be important. You might well be sideways or angled or upside down. Without a hint of awareness of the double entendre aspect of this advice, the article says to go toward the light, if light there be, shining through the snow. And if there’s no light? If you’re too deep or wrongly positioned? Abandon hope.
No, no, clear a space in front of your face (You should really have done this already but we won’t make a fuss about it.) and spit. Yes, spit. Gently. Watch what direction the spit falls as gravity takes hold: That’s down. Dig the other way.
When you’re going through Hell,
As usual, Winston Churchill didn’t say this, but it’s a worthy sentiment nonetheless and somehow it came to mind at this point. But it’s not enough to just keep going, just as it’s not enough to dig in any old direction under a pile of snow. If we’re buried in an avalanche, we have to dig up. In the same way, when we’re going through Hell we have to keep going in a direction that will take us out, not around in a circle or back and forth.
The good folks at Outdoor Life have done a public service by giving us the Spit Test for directional digging in an avalanche. Now we just have to find the equivalent test for directional walking in Hell. In the meantime, we can always spit. It won’t give us any information but it might make us feel better. And it’s better than abandoning hope.