avalanche fatality report for the 201819 season


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Mike Duffy of Avalanche1 gave us the following report on avalanche fatalities from this past season. Check out Mike's Facebook page for more compelling and useful information.

It was an interesting year for snowmobile avalanche fatalities. Twenty plus years ago, most avalanche fatalities were due to appropriate avalanche survival gear not being available. Transceivers, shovels and probes were not used by many riders. Without the gear, you have very little chance of surviving a full burial or being able to pull off a successful rescue.

Unfortunately, a lack of avalanche gear was also the problem that led to the most fatalities in the U.S. last winter. Most of the fatalities were very preventable, if only the victims had had proper avalanche gear and avalanche training. Here’s what happened:
  • U.S. Avalanche fatalities: 25
  • U.S. Snowmobile avalanche fatalities: 8
  • U.S. Snow bike fatalities: 0
Breakdown of U.S. Snowmobile Avalanche Fatalities for the 2018-19 season:
  • 63% of the victims were recovered by people outside the riding group.
  • 32% of the total U.S. avalanche fatalities were snowmobilers.
  • 63% of the snowmobilers killed did not have a transceiver.
  • Midwest riders accounted for 25% of the snowmobile fatalities, while 75% were western riders.
  • 100% of the accidents were triggered by riders in the group.
  • All fatal accidents were single complete burials.
  • 100% of the fatal avalanches had a persistent weak layer.
  • 63% of the accidents had riders in the runout zone.
  • 25% of the victims had deployed an airbag.
  • Almost, if not all, of the riders lacked advanced avalanche training.
Snowmobiler avalanche fatalities by state:
  • Utah - 3
  • Wyoming - 3
  • Montana - 1
  • Idaho - 1
What can we do?
  • Get advanced on-snow training for everyone in your group. You need more than “the basics.”
  • Get the gear: Avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe and airbag.
  • Realize that an airbag is used in conjunction with advanced training, educated decisions and good judgement. It’s not the end-all for safety or a replacement for training.
  • Don’t park in the avalanche runout zone.
  • Learn and understand the riding that is appropriate for the different avalanche problems. There are nine different kinds of avalanches. Some are very unpredictable, and stability varies tremendously from slope to slope and within the same slope.
  • Even if you ride in the mountains one week a year, get a GPS satellite messenger for your group. It’s the only reliable way to get help to your location.
  • Alter your riding terrain according to the danger.
  • Start taking avalanche classes and keep current on your training. Practice with your gear.
  • Speak up if you don’t agree with the terrain or the level of training.
With some changes to how our groups ride and train, we can avoid the misery of these accidents. (Get more info on planning rides to avoid avalanches here.)

Professional avalanche education classes are held nationwide, and we hope to see you in one. For more info, visit www.avalanche1.com and www.avalanche.org.
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