Each year up to 150 people die in avalanche snow, the majority of them being mountain skiers and snowboarders aged 25-35. Most often people think they will be able to recognize the danger and avoid being involved in avalanche snow. However, it is not always possible with avalanches. Unpredictable by nature, they depend on a number of conditions, which may change with a rapid speed. For this reason skiers should become familiar with avalanche ski dangers and how to avoid them.
The first and major thing is to check the avalanche risk scale, used to show the current level of danger. It runs from 1 to 5, where 1 is low, 2 - moderate, 3 - considerable, 4 - high and 5 - a very high level of risk. It should be noted though, that even with a low risk, there's still a danger of avalanche, so that skiers must take all precautions.
Most often avalanche ski dangers await skiers not far from marked and prepared pistes. Despite the fact that on-piste avalanches occur rare, they are common to the easily accessible areas with few trees and large rocks.
It has been also estimated that the majority of fatal avalanches occur at the end of winter - beginning of spring due to the largest amount of snow in the mountain areas. Such factors as wind and weather conditions, slope orientation, terrain and vegetation are crucial in determining the level of risk of snow avalanches.
With the growing number of avalanche victims, there comes the necessity of increased avalanche ski safety measures, which would help reduce the risk of being caught in avalanches. Good safety is a complex process, which includes proper route selection after examination of weather conditions, snowpack and some other factors. One of the most important avalanche ski safety tips is to travel in groups. Otherwise, the chances of being rescued in an avalanche become significantly reduced. It is also important to minimize the number of skiers on the slope. As far as route selection is concerned, it should consider all possible dangers, lying below and above the route, as well as consequences of the unexpected avalanche. Even small avalanches can pose a serious danger to life.
Research indicates that the chances of survival drop from nearly 85% within 15 minutes to estimated 30% after half an hour. For this reason it is vital to use the rescue devices, seen as the fastest way to contact an avalanche victim. The most common type of avalanche ski equipment is beacons, able to locate a victim up to 80 meters away. However, using these devices requires regular practice. The latest digital models also provide indications of direction and require less practice. Portable probes are used to determine the exact location of a victim at a few meters deep in avalanche snow. Probing can turn out to be a lengthy process if a victim didn't use a beacon. Since 1950, more than 85% of all avalanche victims in the United States, found by probing were dead. Among other avalanche ski rescue devices are avalanche airbags, avalanche ball and shovels. Strongly recommended are also signaling devices, carried in the sport equipment.