Preparation and experience key to avoiding avalanches


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The Independent Travel

Avalanches are a hazard of mountaineering, whatever the time of year.

They can happen wherever there is snow lying on ground of a sufficient angle and when one layer of snow slides off another.

Experts say that preparation and experience are one of the key ways to avoid being caught up in one.

Willie Anderson, leader of Cairngorm mountain rescue team, said: "It should be part of a mountaineer's tool kit that they should be well aware of conditions and be able to look at a slope and make an assessment if it's prone to avalanches.

"You can't beat just looking at the conditions and being prepared to change your plans.

"You can dig pits with a snow shovel and ice axe, and find out if there are weak layers within that snow pack, but you really can't beat just getting experience and going out with people and getting them to show you things to look for like wind direction and where the big deposits have been."

The first 20 minutes are said to be crucial for anyone buried in an avalanche, with survivability diminishing after that time.

Cairngorm mountain rescue team members wear devices that transmit a signal if they are caught up in one, so that team mates can locate them.

Some experts suggest techniques such as trying to create an air pocket around your head, or trying to "swim" to the surface to increase your chances of survival.

The Sport Scotland avalanche information service advises people caught in an avalanche to try to run to the side of it, or try to plunge an ice axe into the undersurface to stay near the top of the slide.

If buried, it advises keeping one hand in front of your face and trying to clear or maintain an air space as well as trying to maintain space for chest expansion by taking and holding a deep breath.

It also advises people to try not to panic, and to conserve energy.

Avalanches can occur at any time of year if the conditions are right, in summer as well as winter.

Mr Anderson said: "The Alps are a very very tall mountain range and you can get cornices breaking off as it warms up in the day, that would be very common."