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Avalanche Awareness - by Sarah Ryan

Mountains attract climbers, skiers and tourists who scramble up and down the slopes, hoping to conquer peaks, each in their own way. Yet, to do this they must enter the timeless haunt of avalanches. For centuries, mountain dwellers and travelers have had to reckon with the deadly forces of snowy torrents descending with lightning speed down mountainsides. Researchers and experts are making progress in detection, prevention and safety measures, but avalanches still take their deadly toll throughout the world. Each year, avalanches claim more than 150 lives worldwide, a number that has been increasing over the past few decades. Thousands more are caught in avalanches, partly buried or injured. Everyone from snowmobilers to skiers to highway motorists are caught in the "White Death." Most are fortunate enough to survive. Here are some key steps you can take to avoid avalanches and actions to take if you or someone you're with gets caught in a snowslide. Evaluate the avalanche hazard before attempting a rescue. Constantly evaluate avalanche conditions. Areas with fresh accumulations of wind-driven snow are particularly vulnerable. Extremely steep slopes particularly in shaded areas near a ridge arealso risky. Always travel with a partner. Descend risky areas one by one and watch for avalanche signs. Wear an avalanche rescue beacon that signals your location. Carry a small shovel and a long probe to locate a buried partner. Learn how to use the rescue equipment. Practice using the rescue equipment. Practice some more. If caught in a slide, try to get off the slab or grab a tree. If swept away, swim to the surface. Evaluate the avalanche hazard before attempting a rescue.

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