How to Stay Safe in an Avalanche

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RENO, Nev. -- Avalanches are usually rare, but they've already claimed two lives in Sierra Nevada. Often times, skiers and snowboarders are ill-prepared for avalanches.

Whether at a resort or in the back-country, getting educated and properly trained can save a life. Geoffrey Burtner, a ski instructor and sales associate at Reno Mountain Sports says the most important tool to have is knowledge.

"Taking at least a base level 1 class certification pass will let you know about the snow science, what causes avalanches and how to get out of them," he said.

There are three essential items each back-country skier or snowboarder needs: a beacon let's people find the missing person, a probe helps find the buried victim in the snow and a shovel to help dig him or her out.

When people head to the slopes, it's smart to carry a beacon and have a buddy take a transmitter. The transmitter will be able to detect the beacon if it is within 30 to 50 meters.

"If you are caught in an avalanche and buried, a beacon is really the only way other than luck to be found," Burtner said.

However, for the average skier or snowboarder at a resort, wearing one won't provide too much help.

"Most patrolers will assume you're not wearing one and the expense and cost and the need for training to use the beacon properly," he said. "The best thing to do is just to ski with a partner, be aware of the conditions around you and know how to get help if you need it.

When stuck in an avalanche, Burtner advises victims to use a swimming motion to stay on top of the snow.

"Fight to stay toward the top and as you feel the avalanche slowing down try to get your hands in front of your face and clear as much space out however you can."

He says moisture from their breaths creates an ice mask in the snow, which could lead to suffocation.

Click on the link below to find out more about avalanche classes or to check for avalanche conditions.