Venturing into avalanche-prone terrain demands more than just courage. Most importantly, it requires knowledge and preparation.

The stark reality is that most people can’t survive under avalanche-triggered snow for more than 30 minutes, with a mere 30% chance of survival when buried. Avalanche training isn’t just advisable, it’s paramount for backcountry enthusiasts, whether they’re skiers, snowshoers, winter climbers or snowmobilers.

“Anyone going into avalanche prone terrain should complete a certified avalanche safety awareness course appropriate for their destination,” says Harding Bush, associate director for Global Operations and a former Navy SEAL with extensive mountain and cold weather operations expertise.


An avalanche careens down a snowy mountain side.


By the Numbers

In 2023, 30 people died because of avalanches in the United States. On average, 20 to 40 people succumb to avalanches annually in the U.S., with Colorado topping the list for the most avalanche-related deaths. Globally, the European Avalanche Warning Services reports an average of 150 avalanche-related deaths each year, with the Alps being a hotspot for such incidents.

Avalanches are most common during the winter, but they do occur year-round, according to National Geographic. In the United States, 100,000 natural avalanches occur each year.


Avalanche Training and Advice From the Experts

The best way to avoid avalanche risk is, obviously, to avoid where they could happen in the first place. But, since millions of people either live or recreate in areas prone to avalanches, the next best thing is proper avalanche training. Organizations like the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, along with the American Avalanche Association, offer courses for both individual backcountry enthusiasts and as well as professional avalanche training to individuals employed at ski areas, in transportation, guides, outdoor educators, and public forecasting centers.

Bush adds, “Just because you’re an experienced skier or snowboarder, it doesn’t mean you’re ready to ski backcountry mountains without lifts, service amenities or safety patrols. Take avalanches very seriously.”



A snowy slope is tracked up by skiers.


For those who have taken a course, here are some additional considerations before your next winter excursion:

Know When To Go — and When To Stay Home

Most states and countries have their own avalanche resources. New Hampshire has the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, Switzerland has the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research and Avalanche Canada issues daily avalanche forecasts throughout the winter for much of the mountainous regions of western Canada.

“Each area is a tiny micro-climate,” says Bush. “Check the local weather and the local conditions of your destination, then continually make your own observations and risk assessment from the time you leave the trailhead until you return. Assess the snowpack and talk with others you encounter to share observations of the snowpack and weather.”

You may hear statements like “snow avalanche risk is at its greatest 24 hours following a snowfall of 12 inches or more.”

Bush warns there are more factors at play than just snowfall.

“There is so much more that goes into the creation of an avalanche: wind loading, slope aspect, faceted layers and solar gain, to name a few. Human triggered avalanches increase every year with people not being careful and starting an avalanche,” he said. “You may think it is safe days after a storm, when in fact it can be more dangerous due to combined factors.”


Two snowmobilers ride in deep snow under blue skies.


Do Not Go Alone

If you’re planning winter recreation in a remote or unfamiliar area, go with someone who knows the terrain: a guide, a tour operator or an experienced local. It’s the “buddy system,” on a mountainous scale.


Training Is Essential

An avalanche is made up of an underlying bed of snow, a weaker layer (such as fresh powder) and an overlaying snow slab. Add a stressor, usually additional snow or a falling rock, and the weight can collapse the weaker layer and send the slab sliding.

Add the weight of a human, or a group of humans, and the same thing can happen. In fact, 90% of deaths are from slides triggered by the victim or members of the victim’s group. Can loud sounds really set off an avalanche? According to, it is a myth that noise can start an avalanche.

Everyone in your group should be trained in the use of avalanche safety equipment, because by the time search and rescue arrives, it may be too late.


Three winter hikers make descend a mountain in an expanse of deep snow.


Equipment Is Important

Your equipment is important but it’s not the only thing you should focus on.

“People in the backcountry need to understand that all the beacons, probes and shovels in the world will not reduce the risk of an avalanche — they just help with finding a dead or severely injured body,” Bush says. “Often there is too much avalanche safety gear and people forget common sense items like extra glove liners, a basic first aid kit or a binding repair kit.”

“Technology is a double-edged sword,” continues Bush. “It’s safer than it’s ever been in the backcountry, but the technology is useless if you can’t implement it properly. The average person has access to top-of-the-line equipment and how-to videos on the internet. This false sense of security is not a substitute for a credentialed avalanche awareness course, or the experience and skill needed to travel in the back or sidecountry safely.”


Global Rescue Travel Services Membership

Global Rescue, the pioneer of worldwide field rescue, has years of experience rescuing members with injuries in snowy backcountry situations, such as falling through a snow bridge in Pakistan, crashing into a tree while heli-skiing in Canada, and encountering bad weather while on expedition in Greenland.

Whether you’re seeking outdoor advice, like safety tips for a blizzard, or immediate medical or security assistance, Global Rescue operations centers are staffed 24/7/365 to assist members. Click here to learn more.