Don’t swim in the sliding snow

Brief by Allen Best

Outdoors – December 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

It’s an old saw that those caught in avalanches should attempt to swim, in order to stay afloat. But The Denver Post reports that an emerging body of evidence suggests that’s wrong.

The new reasoning, explained Dale Atkins, a former forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, is that swimming takes your hands away from your body. Better to keep them in front of your face, to create a pocket of air after the snow has quit moving but before it has set up.

Staying on top of the snow is important, said Atkins, but in many cases, victims are helpless to affect their positions. Luck is ultimately the biggest factor in determining whether a skier is buried or manages to ride on top of the snowslide.

Larger objects tend to rise to the surface of a moving stream of avalanche debris. Snowmobiles, for example, are twice as likely to end up on the surface as compared to their riders. Cars almost never are buried.