What NOT To Do In An Avalanche: Learning From Other’s Mistakes

The Luckiest Avalanche Victim On Earth

The other day I saw an unsolicited post catch my eye as the headline had me curious: “Warning: Do Not Ski Off Trail”. Since anyone who knows ANYTHING about snow sliding knows that going off-trail is where the magic happens, I was curious why people would warn such nonsense.  It was a link to a video of a group of Australian skiers shussing down some average conditions in Switzerland.  Halfway down the run an avalanche occurs, and with his gopro firmly on his head and red light blinking, we get to witness the entire event go down.

The most amazing part of this video is what happens when the gopro-wearer’s friend gets buried.  I suppose this is a good point for you to watch the video before I completely tear these guys a new one and dissect why these guys have equal portions of moron and luck.

8 Reasons Why These Guys Are Dangerous Kooks:

  1. :17 – Riding over a blind convex roll. If you are in avalanche terrain, blindly going down something where you can’t see the bottom is always a red flag.  A convex roll is anywhere the terrain suddenly steepens.  There is nothing anchoring the snow on the roll, meaning it’s more likely to break off. Case in point right here. If you have tested the snow and know that it’s OK, this might’ve been a safe thing to do.  But I can guarantee you that these guys did not dig a snow profile, and likely have no idea what one even is.
  2. :21- Stopping immediately after calling “Avalanche”.  The best thing you can do when caught up in an avalanche is to keep moving.  When you stop, you are at the mercy of the slide, and the odd’s won’t be in your favour.  As soon as you feel or hear the ground underneath you releasing, you want to cut as quickly as possible to an area away from danger.  The area just to the left of him was not moving, and had some vegetation to act as anchors.  But instead he just stood there in shock.  It’s just another example of why you need to practice these things as much as possible BEFORE you head into dangerous terrain so that it becomes instinctual.
  3. This is a Transceiver. Also called a beacon. It will help save your life in an avalanche, if you know how to use it.


    :40- NOT switching to receive ASAP.  This is assuming they even HAVE transceivers and know how to use them.   We later find out that he does have one, but he has NO clue whether or not his friend does.  Regardless, if you are transmitting a signal and you are above the ground, you are just a distraction to whomever you are trying to find.  Switching to receive should be the very first thing you do once you know there are no other hazards imminent.  Of course, simply having a transceiver is not good enough, one must be well adept as how to use it, and having it be second nature to where you can perform a search in the most stressful situations.  Like when you’ve got a broken leg and your friend is five minutes away from asphyxiation, which is a very realistic situation when you have a few megatons of mass cascading over you.

  4. 1:32- Worrying about his skis more than his friend’s life. This guy wastes valuable time A)Taking off his skis (it’s faster to move around with them on), B)Digging to find his buried ski, and C)Neatly stacking them vertically so that he can find them again. I really shouldn’t have to go into why this guy shouldn’t be prioritizing his skis over his friend’s LIFE, should I? 
  5. 1:39- Dude takes his gloves off. You can’t help anyone if you can’t feel your hands.
  6. 1:43-2:13- It takes 30 seconds for him to put his shovel together. I could do a mini-analysis of how many things he does wrong here in getting his shovel out of his pack. My favorite is probably when he attaches the blade, realizes the blade is still secure, and has to unattach it to take it out of its compartment before putting it back together again. The whole experience is another painfully obvious example that this guy has done zero practice whatsoever in rescue techniques.
  7. 2:13- He actually asks his buddy if he has a transceiver. There is so much wrong with this. Every time I go out into avalanche terrain, I do a beacon check with my group to make sure everything is working properly.  If it’s someone I’ve never been out with, I will do a practice run with them to make sure they know their shit.  If they don’t, I’m not going to trust my life with them.  It’s that simple. Some might call me too extreme in my caution. That’s fine by me considering I’m still alive after hundreds of days in the backcountry. But this guy – this guy… Doesn’t even fucking know if his friend is wearing a transceiver, let alone whether or not buddy knows how to use one.
  8. 2:52 – Despite the probe being in his hand, he doesn’t bother to actually use the thing. Maybe that’s a good thing considering how long it took him to get his shovel ready. Not that it should take long – when you know how to use it you can have a probe fully ready in less than 5 seconds. But instead he just starts blindly digging at a dancing ski pole poking out of the snow.  While the pole in the snow is an indicator, it only shows the bit where his hand is in a 3 foot radius somewhere in the snow. His head could be buried deeper, or in another position far from the pole. When someone is at risk of asphyxiation, every second counts, and probing to find your victim can save you a lot of wasted time guessing. Let’s just ignore the fact that even when digging, the probe is still in his hands. Until 3:05, when he tosses it to his friend(?) who is standing by doing god-knows-what.

By the grace of God, Allah, Ganesh, and Billy Ray combined, these guys managed to uncover their buried friend and he will live until their next folly.  I’m hoping this scares them straight, forcing them to convert to a life of pedantic practicality in all walks of life, not just when backcountry skiing in avalanche terrain. But considering how many follies they actually got away with, I’m guessing the “She’ll be right mate!” attitude runs deep in their blood.

My only hope is that people can learn from their idiocy and they can advocate tireless backcountry safety.  Of course I’m happy that the guy made it, but part of me is jealous that he was spared when so many friends who I know that did take the precautions ended up on the wrong side fortune. C’est la vie I suppose… I just hope this guy discovers the cure for cancer or ushers in a few centuries of world peace… whatever he does it better be big things because he managed to get rescued when his friends did nearly everything wrong.

But as long as it’s a learning lesson for others, hopefully all is not lost. Be safe out there in avalanche terrain people.  Please and thank you.