Avalanche Survival

A new study just released suggests that survival times for people buried in avalanches in Canada is significantly lower than those from Switzerland. One of the main reasons is the heavier snow, particularly in maritime-influenced regions.

Although this study focused on data from Canada, the maritime influence on snowpacks in the North Shore Mountains above Vancouver is similar to the Washington Cascades when it comes to denser, heavier snow. The information in this study might be just as relevant in the northwest regions of the United States – although this is not implied in the paper itself.

That brings up a question – do you know of any studies that might correlate this assumption? If so, please pass them on. We can all benefit from shared knowledge when it comes to avalanche safety and survival.

Nature's grand scale - can you see the people in this pic? (Photo: M.Kopp)

Other interesting facts from the paper:

  • Current recommendations for rescue times are based on Swiss avalanche survival data.
  • Within the parameters set out by the study, there were more than three times as many avalanche burials in Switzerland than Canada.
  • Canadians are quicker in extrication (an average of 18 minutes burial time versus 35 minutes in the Swiss sample).
  • The overall proportion of people who survived burial was almost equal between both countries.
  • Protective devices may help improve survival.
  • Trauma was another factor in survival times – first aid skills are critical in successful recoveries.

The most important fact (as far as I’m concerned):

Avoiding avalanches is the ultimate key to survival.

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