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What to do if an avalanche strikes while you are skiing

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Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadFeb 02, 2023 | 10:21

What to do if an avalanche strikes while you are skiing

Rescue operations in Gulmarg after the avalanche. Photo: Baramulla Police/Twitter

Ski season for 21 foreign tourists in Jammu and Kashmir's Gulmarg turned into a tragedy when an avalanche came rolling down the slopes. Two polish tourists lost their lives, while the other 19 tourists were rescued by local authorities. 

The incident hit Gulmarg ski resort on February 1 at around 12.30 pm when 21 tourists and two local guides were at the Hapatkhud Kangdori ski slopes. 

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Subsequently, an avalanche warning was issued in several nearby districts. The ski slope where the Wednesday avalanche took place has been closed off.

Avalanche with medium danger level is likely to occur above the altitude of 2,400 metres over Baramulla, Ganderbal, Kupwara, Bandipora in the next 24 hours.
- Local authorities

Reports say western disturbance might bring more avalanches. 

Gulmarg is at its most beautiful at this time of the year with plentiful snowfall. It is also the best time to go skiing. However, every ski season, tourists should keep in mind the risks involved in winter sport and what to do in case of a disaster. 

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The most dangerous disaster to strike skiers is likely going to be an avalanche. It's unpredictable, fast and many a times deadly. 

So, here's what you can do if you are going skiing while the snow lasts or you are caught in an avalanche:

CHECK THE WEATHER

  • We Indians aren't used to checking the weather conditions and then going out. But when you are in the mountains, especially going skiing, you should absolutely check the conditions and recent warnings from local stations. 
  • You should definitely not go skiing during a storm and also avoid venturing out right after a storm even if the sky looks clear and blue. 
  • This is because fresh snowfall often adds weight to the snow bank on top of a mountain, making it more vulnerable to sliding. Even a small slide of snow can turn into a massive avalanche by the time it travels downward. 
  • Check if the snow under your feet is sliding too much and consult a trusted guide if conditions are safe or not. 

SKI IN GROUPS

  • It is always way too risky to go skiing alone or in a remote area. Because if you are to get caught in an avalanche, there's likely no one out looking for you and may not reach you in time. 
  • So, it is always advised to be in a group and in a well-known place. 
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EQUIPMENT

  • There are several special ski safety gears that you should carry to enhance your chances of survival in case of an avalanche. 
  • You and your group members should have an avalanche rescue radio transmitter and receiver to help locate someone faster in case of an avalanche. Note that it is better to locate your missing friends yourself rather than wait for the rescue team to arrive. 
An avalanche rescue radio transmitter and receiver
  • A snow shovel that can fit into your backpack will be very useful to dig out your buried friend. 
  • An avalanche probe will help you stick the pole in moving snow and try to hold on to it or indicate your presence in case you are buried by sticking out above the snow. 
An avalanche probe. Photo: Intersport rent
  • There are also avalanche airbags that you can carry in your backpack, which once inflated will help you stay above the bombarding snow. 
  • Wear a helmet and let go of any heavy equipment near you. But keep your backpack to protect your neck and back from any kind of impact. 

DURING AN AVALANCHE

So you are sliding down a beautiful white mountain, enjoying the freedom and the fresh air. And suddenly the ground underneath your feet starts cracking. 

  • When an avalanche occurs while you are skiing, it is most likely triggered by you and hence it starts right under your feet. 
  • If you spot the snow cracking, start going upwards above the crack line. You are unlikely to have lots of time to react, but it has been done before. 
  • If you see an avalanche heading your way from upwards, then try to move to the side of the avalanche, perpendicular to the direction. Keep in mind that you are unlikely to be able to outrun the avalanche. 

  • Snow density in the middle of the avalanche is more than it is on the sides, so your chances of survival increase as you move to the side or luckily out of the path of destruction. 
  • Try and swim and stay on the surface of the snow if you are caught in an avalanche. In case of a massive avalanche, it is better to place your arms over your head and try to stay upright
  • Try and hold on to a tree or a rock. But sometimes, strong avalanches can also drag them away. Also, try to keep your hand upright so there's a chance of your hand sticking out of the snow in case you are buried. 
  • Keep your mouth tightly shut and teeth clenched so that snow doesn't collect in your mouth. 
  • If you find yourself buried under snow, create an air pocket in front of your mouth and nose to give you some breathing time. 
  • If you are buried in less than one foot of snow, there is a chance for you to be able to dig yourself out. Also, check in which direction you should dig, as you may not be in an upright position. 
  • To check if you are in an upright position, spit a small amount of snow and see which way it slides downward. 
  • Do not waste your energy and breath trying to dig yourself out if you are buried deeper than a foot. Wait for the rescue team. Also, scream if you hear someone nearby, but don't tire yourself out if they don't seem to be able to hear you.  

  • For friends and family looking for their lost loved ones, time is crucial to find your loved ones alive. Try and find the missing person within 10-15 minutes or at least 30 minutes at best. 
Last updated: February 02, 2023 | 10:21
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