Avalanche DOs and DON'Ts

Avalanche DOs and DON'Ts

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Terry Cunningham

Avalanche safety is all about information and preparation. To maximize your chances of staying safe in avalanche country, we’ve compiled a list of avalanche “do’s and don’ts.”


  • Visit the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC) at mtavalanche.com to read their daily avalanche advisory and become a fan on Facebook to receive their videos and photos.
  • Educate yourself by taking an avalanche safety class. Better yet, bring your partner along too. The GNFAC website has a list of all courses in the area.
  • Carry an avalanche beacon, shovel, probes, and first-aid gear whenever you’re in the backcountry or side-country.
  • Always travel with a partner and always ski slopes one at a time.
  • Practice with your beacon by visiting a beacon park such as the one at Beall Park. A person has an 85% chance of surviving if they are dug up in 15 minutes; it drops to 40% after 30 minutes.
  • Carry an inclinometer so you know when you’re in avalanche terrain (slopes steeper than 30 degrees).
  • Know the avalanche training of your skiing or snowmobiling partners; you don’t want to trust your rescue to a “weak link” in the group.
  • If you are caught in an avalanche, fight like hell; if you are watching your partner, note their last seen point because this is where you will begin the search.


  • Assume that a well-tracked ski slope won’t avalanche.
  • Think that side-country skiing is any safer than in the remote backcountry. It’s not.
  • Leave a buried avalanche victim in order to alert rescuers. YOU are the rescuer and time is ticking away. Keep digging.
  • Let peer pressure influence your better judgment. If you’re not comfortable with the risks being taken by your skiing partners, let them know in no uncertain terms.
  • Assume that you are safe because you’re skiing or snowmobiling on flat land. Be aware that slopes above you can slide when avalanche conditions are ripe.
  • Ignore warning signs like snowpack “whumps,” shooting cracks, or signs of avalanche activity on adjoining slopes. Turn around and live to ski or ride another day.
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