Mountain riding is a fast growing activity for North American snowmobilers. With spectacular mountain terrains comes the added safety concern of avalanches. Your risk can be minimized by taking an avalanche awareness course and by carrying the proper equipment. Preparation is the key!
Some general advice:
- Take an avalanche class. These are available online and through various books and videos but it is best to take a multi-day course on the snow. See the Avalanche Canada website.
- Always carry Avalanche Safety Equipment. Wear an avalanche transceiver and practice using it. Carry a shovel and probe in a small backpack. Your best chance of a successful rescue is if it is done within your own party. There is no time to seek outside help.
- Practice using the safety gear. Good search and rescue technique saves lives. Focus on quick transceiver search, effective probing and efficient shoveling.
- Strategic shoveling saves valuable minutes. Learn the best shoveling techniques and carry a strong shovel that you have tested on HARD packed snow.
- Don’t tolerate fellow riders not being prepared with rescue gear.
- Temperature inversions, rain and sun exposure can rapidly change conditions and trigger avalanches as snow loses strength as it warms.
- Avalanche bulletins cover large regions and describe general conditions. Local variations are common and snowmobilers must remain vigilant in their analysis of the immediate conditions when riding.
- Always check the avalanche bulletin for your region before you go riding. Know the terrain rating with the current danger rating. This provides you with good decision making guidance.
- Most avalanches occur on steep slopes of 30 to 60 degrees. Choose slopes that have been stripped by wind (windward) rather than slopes that have been loaded (leeward). Snow that is rock hard can still avalanche if it is poorly bonded to layers below. Be wary of steep, smooth, leeward slopes.
- If high-marking, snowmobilers should go one at a time, with everyone else watching from a safe spot away from the potential avalanche run-out area. Allow a wide margin of safety.
- Always park well away from the bottom of steep slopes. Do not count on being able to outrun a slide. Park parallel rather than one behind the other and have your machine pointing away from the avalanche path with the kill switch in the “up” position.
- If someone gets stuck on a steep slope, give them time to free their sled. Adding another snowmobile to the slope could start an avalanche.
- “Fixation” on specific routes can lead to trouble. Be open minded, well researched with options and willing to retreat to try again another day.
- Respect other park users in popular locations.
Five key safety guidelines when riding in avalanche country:
- GET THE GEAR: Make sure everyone has an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe on their person and knows how to use them.
- GET THE TRAINING: Take an Avalanche Skills Training (AST) course.
- GET THE FORECAST: Make a riding plan based on the current avalanche and weather forecast.
- GET THE PICTURE: Unstable snow exists if you see recent avalanche activity. Riding on or underneath these slopes is dangerous.
- GET OUT OF HARM’S WAY: One at a time on all avalanche slopes. Don’t go help your stuck friend. Don’t group up in runout zones.
Avalanche Skills Training (AST)
The Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) has developed curriculum, instructional materials and lesson plans for Avalanche Skills Training (AST) courses delivered by instructors who have been trained by the CAC.
For information on courses offered see the The Canadian Avalanche Centre website.