Here in Vail, Colorado, avalanches are beyond myth and imagination; they’re a reality. I’m most concerned about avalanches when skiing, but hikers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers–as well as anyone venturing out in avalanche terrain–should be aware of avalanche risk and experienced enough to use essential avalanche gear, such as a beacon, a shovel, and a probe.
What does a big avalanche look like? Here’s footage of a Colorado avalanche survivor who successfully deployed a BCA avalanche airpack:
This next one makes me feel sick to the stomach…a very close call in which a skier in the 2013 Swatch Skiers Cup does a backflip at the same time an avalanche is roaring up behind him:
In both of these situations, the skiers ended up on top or in front of the avalanche. But most victims aren’t so lucky.
Wondering what you should do if you’re the victim in an avalanche?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:
“How to Survive an Avalanche”
Who says survival manuals have to be boring? The National Geographic Complete Survival Manual is far from being a snoozer. It’s packed with practical how-to information, expert survival stories, and step-by-step photo illustrations. It covers six of the world’s most hazardous environments and the survival skills relevant to each, including how to find water in the desert, how to build a snow cave shelter, and what to eat in the woods.
Some of my favorite, coolest-of-the-cool topics covered in the National Geographic Complete Survival Manual include:
1. How to extract drinking water from fish (involves sucking out spinal fluid and fluid from fish eyes)
2. How to make a whistle out of an acorn cap
3. How to build a heat reflector to stay warm
4. How to navigate by the Southern Cross
5. How to survive quicksand
6. How to make improvised sunglasses in the desert
7. How to construct a solar oven
8. How to make a shadow stick to find direction
9. How to fight off a shark
10. How to make a deadfall trap to catch small, meaty animals
For a more comprehensive look at the National Geographic Complete Survival Manual, click here to read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:
“Overview of the National Geographic Complete Survival Manual”
Photo © National Geographic.
I recently wrote an article for the About.com Survival Skills website about avalanche survival gear, including the Black Diamond AvaLung and avalanche airbags. I got the idea to write about these two pieces of gear last week as I attended an avalanche awareness lecture given by Scott Toepfer of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
As Scott was talking about different types of gear, he put on an avalanche airbag backpack and then surprised the audience by pulling the trigger to inflate it. As soon as he triggered the airbag, it exploded like the airbag in a car and expanded into a big red balloon-airbag around his head. We were all startled because it was loud, and the airbag inflated with explosion-like rapidity, but then our gasps turned into laughs as we realized what he did.
If you’ve never seen how an avalanche airbag works, check out this video that shows a test of the Mammut Avalanche Airbag System in which two dummies with airbags are thrown our of a helicopter, and then the testers set off an avalanche by throwing out explosives after them…exciting stuff:
If you’d like to know more about avalanche survival gear, including AvaLungs and avalanche airbags, check out my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:
“Avalanche Survival Gear: Beyond the Basics”
Avalanche survival gear such as the AvaLung or an avalanche airbag can be used in addition to other essential gear to increase avalanche survival rate…click here to continue reading…
Last week, this porcupine was sighted on a ski run at Beaver Creek in Colorado:
Scores of people were in the area watching the Junior Olympics ski race, but luckily no one got spiked with this critter’s quills. The animal was reported to be lumbering across the snow, moving in slow motion in the middle of the day.
Porcupines are generally nocturnal animals, which means that you’ll most likely encounter a porcupine at night as it forages for its food. In North America, they can be encountered either on the ground or in trees. Contrary to popular myths, porcupines don’t shoot their quills at predators or at others who startle them; it’s only possible to get barbed by porcupine quills if your flesh comes in direct contact with them, in which case they’ll detach from the porcupine’s body and then be stuck in yours.
Here in Colorado, it’s more common for a dog to have a painful porcupine encounter than a human because dogs don’t understand how a porcupine’s quills work. Humans generally know that it’s best to stay clear of a porcupine…except these guys from “Call of the Wildman” who apparently don’t know how to treat an animal kindly or don’t know that a porcupine’s quills can cause infection…
If you see a porcupine in the wild, please do a better job than the Animal Planet guys, and give it plenty of room to move along peacefully. And if you’ve somehow managed to get barbed with a porcupine’s quills, follow the advice in my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:
“How to Survive a Porcupine Encounter”
Porcupines are medium-sized rodents well known for their ability to defending themselves by depositing barbed quills into their attackers. But contrary to common myths, porcupines can’t launch their quills at you, and they’re more likely to run away in avoidance of humans than run towards you in attack mode. Nonetheless, if a porcupine deposits its quills into human flesh, the result can be painful and infectious, so follow these guidelines next time you stumble upon a porcupine in order to survive an encounter…click here to continue reading…
I usually hope that I’m wearing skis if I’m in a deep-snow situation, but snowshoes can be helpful as well, especially if the intent isn’t to ski, but to climb or simply hike instead. A few years ago, I shared a snowshoe-required adventure with my sister when we went ice climbing in East Vail. When we started out, the terrain was flat (at right), but it had been snowing steadily for the previous few days. We were able to hike in our mountaineering boots, but as soon as we started to climb upwards, we were post-holing in deep powder.
No worries…thanks to snowshoes. Here’s my sister smiling with her snowshoes on; in this deep section, she’s still staying afloat:
Finally, we were able to see our climbing objective. I’m still knee-deep in this section with my snowshoes on:
We geared up under the cliffs, and then I set off into chest-deep snow to set up a top rope:
I rappelled down, and then the real fun of the day began–with crampons and ice axes instead of snowshoes.
Snowshoes made our approach ascent possible on this day. Skis with skins would have been too heavy and unnecessary since we weren’t planning on skiing down. However, if we had set off with crampons alone, we likely wouldn’t have been able to make it up to the base of the climb so efficiently.
What if you get stuck in deep snow without snowshoes?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills site and learn how to make your own:
“Survival Snowshoes: How to Make Your Own Snowshoes”
Snowshoes are important winter survival tools because they allow your body to float on top of deep snow so that you don’t sink thigh-deep into your surroundings with each step. Snowshoes not only make walking on snow easier, but they also make carrying a backpack or pulling gear behind you on a sled easier as well…click here to continue reading…
Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.