Tag Archives: preparation

How to Avoid an Avalanche

Whether you’re hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing through the mountains, avalanches are not to be regarded lightly. We’ve all seen enough video clips and movies to know that they are a force to be reckoned with and one to be avoided at all costs. Even in situations where you played by all the rules and did everything you were supposed to, Mother Nature still sometimes throws a curveball and you might find yourself on a remote snow-covered mountain that’s showing the signs of an avalanche. Here is some information on what exactly you’re up against as well as how to properly prepare yourself.

What Triggers an Avalanche?

Snow crashing over a snowy cliff

An avalanche at Mt. Rainier [Image: environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/avalanche-profile/]

An avalanche occurs once the weight of the snow is too much and the snowpack fails and collapses under the pressure. It’s hard to determine what the strength of a snowpack will be since the snow grains vary depending on size, density, temperature, airflow, received sunlight, difference in terrain, and more. A lot of avalanches occur naturally either during a storm or when the snowpack changes, such as by partially melting, but can also be triggered by exploring visitors. There are three different types of avalanches to look out for: slab, powder snow, and wet snow.

Slab Avalanche

A hiker trapped in a series of snow chunks breaking away from the snowpack.

A slab avalanche [Image: www.wayneflannavalancheblog.com/2012/01/i-have-this-picture-on-my-wall-in.html]

A slab avalanche occurs when covered layers of weakened snow fracture and collapse. They mostly happen during and up to 24 hours after a storm that leaves 12 inches or more of fresh powder. This new snow overloads the existing layers and creates a break. These avalanches can be huge chunks of snowpack, sometimes spanning an entire mountainside, and typically carry downslope for a long time with the possibility of reaching up to 80 mph. Approximately 90% of avalanche-related deaths are due to slab avalanches—many who find themselves involved in a slab avalanche will rarely escape alive.

Powder Snow Avalanches

An avalanche coming down a mountainside appearing like a cloud.

A powder snow avalanche [Image: www.planat.ch/en/images-details/datum/2011/06/21/schattenbachlawine-walenstadt]

Powder snow avalanches occur with fresh, dry powder and essentially become a snow cloud. These are the largest avalanches to form out of turbulent suspension currents. Typically these avalanches are able to move along flat surfaces for long distances and only make up a small amount of injuries or deaths comparatively.

Wet Snow Avalanches

A smaller avalanche coming down a mountainside made up of clumps of wet snow.

A wet snow avalanche [Image: www.mtavalanche.com/images/10/loose-wet-snow-avalanche?size=_original]

Although wet snow avalanches move slowly, they can take up a large amount of space, can result in serious injury, and end up being pretty destructive leaving trees, boulders, and most of what they come into contact with in their wake. They occur from a loose snow release in snow packs that have a lot of water saturation and are close to melting point. A lot of times these avalanches occur toward the end of winter as the snow is warmed by the longer daytime hours.

How to Prepare for Avalanches

A diagram of a man trapped underneath snow putting an arm above his head and another across his face to create an air pocket.

What to do if trapped in an avalanche [Image: www.artofmanliness.com/2011/12/14/how-to-survive-an-avalanche]

When going on a wintertime adventure on a snowy mountaintop, it’s best to be prepared for even the most extreme situations. Always check avalanche forecasts with park headquarters before heading out for a trip. At the bare minimum, you should bring a shovel, beacon, and probe with you. Beacons (or avalanche transceivers) are important because they can receive signals from other devices to help locate buried victims. A probe is used to dive into the snow and find a buried victim and works especially well when coupled with a beacon. Avalanche airbags and Avalungs are fantastic items that make it so a buried person has a higher chance of surviving and being rescued.

Sometimes even the most diligent and prepared hiker, skier, or snowboarder will hear the terrifying creaks that signify an avalanche. The first thing you’ll want to do is get off the breaking slab as quickly as possible by moving to the side. Snowmobilers are sometimes able to crank the speed and outrace a broken slab. If unable to escape the mass of traveling snow, try to grab onto a sturdy object such as a tree or rock instead. Humans are denser than other debris and will sink faster in the snowpack. Once the snow settles, it refreezes and makes it nearly impossible to move. Throwing a hand above the snowpack and making room in front of your face are the most important things to do if you find yourself trapped. Some claim that spitting will help you determine which way is up or that swimming will get you away from a traveling snowpack quicker, but there is no proof that either actually works. The longer a victim is submerged under the snow, the less chance they have of surviving the incident (usually being buried for more than 15 minutes leads to hypothermia and a lower chance of survival).

Hopefully, this article gave you some new information and makes you feel a bit more prepared for any winter journeys you may be planning. Download our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to find a park to explore near you!

How to go Horseback Riding

Horseback riding in a state park can be a ton of fun but it can also be a dangerous activity if you are not careful or if you do not know how to go horseback riding. Here is a simple guide to follow to learn how to ride a horse.

Step 1: Location

Three horses in riding stable who want to go horseback riding

Image: cedarcreekcabinrentals.com

The first thing that you need to do is find a good riding stable. Some riding stables have an experienced riding instructor to help you. Download your state’s Pocket Ranger® app to find a state park that offers horseback riding and equestrian trails.

Step 2: Prepare Your Horse

Grooming brown horse

Image: www.reinsofthenight.com

Before you go horseback riding, it is important to groom your horse if it is dirty and to prevent your horse from feeling too warm. The next step is to tack your horse by putting on the saddle, the girth and then the bridle. You will have to know how to tie rope knots. An instructor will be there at your chosen location to help you with these steps, so don’t panic.

Step 3: Mount Your Horse

Woman mounting a horse

Image: www.caaequestrian.com

Always mount your horse on the left side. Hold the reins in your left hand and turn the stirrup (a pair of devices attached to each side of a horse’s saddle for the rider’s foot), towards you with your right hand. Put your left foot into the stirrup, hold the saddle and bounce gently on the stirrup. Then swing your right leg over the horse and sit down gently on the saddle.

Step 4: Find Your Balance

Horseback riding with instructor

Horseback Riding at Lake George State Park [Image Credit: Lisa Narine]

Once you are on the horse, the instructor will lead you until you are comfortable to ride on your own. If you feel unbalanced, hold onto your horse’s mane until you are steady. You will feel a rocking motion as you ride and the seat should naturally move with the motion. Your arms need to move with the motion of your horse while keeping your elbows light. Keep your back straight and look forward. One-third of your boot should be in the stirrup, keeping your heels pointing down.

Step 5: Using Aids to Control Your Horse

Woman holding horse reins, sitting on horse

Lake George State Park Stable [Image Credit: Lisa Narine]

Aids are considered to be your hands, legs and your seat. To make your horse move forward, squeeze your calves gently against the horse’s sides. If the horse doesn’t move, put more energy into it. Some horses also respond to clucks.

To make your horse halt, sit deep into the saddle and apply pressure with the reins. You can also say “whoa.”

To turn your horse, pull the left or right rein out to the side and apply pressure with your outside leg. If you don’t add pressure with your leg, your horse will not listen and it will continue moving forward.

Step 6: Trotting

English: Andalusian horse trotting with rider ...

English: Andalusian horse trotting with rider Deutsch: Andalusier im Trab mit Reiterin (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

If you are comfortable with the steps listed above, you can now learn how to trot with your horse! You have the option to either sit the trot or post the trot.

When you sit the trot, sit deep into the saddle and keep contact with your legs. Remember to keep your elbows relaxed. To post the trot, raise up in your stirrups every other step. Point your heel down and keep contact with the horse’s mouth. Make sure your hands stay still and don’t follow movements of the body because this is uncomfortable for the horse.

Horses trot diagonally, so when moving to the left, you should rise when your horse’s right shoulder is forward. When you are moving to the right, raise when your horse’s left shoulder is forward.

Step 7: Learn How to Canter

English: Andalusian horse cantering with rider...

English: Andalusian horse cantering with rider Deutsch: Andalusier im Galopp mit Reiterin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have become well experienced with horseback riding, you can now learn how to canter, which is a rocking motion. To canter, move your outside leg slightly back and squeeze. When you sit the canter, your seat will roll with the canter while you remain in the position you are riding. Remember not to tense up and keep a steady contact with the horse’s mouth. You can also canter while in “half-seat.” To sit half-seat, incline your shoulders and rotate your pelvis forward.

Remember to be cautious and always wear protective gear when you go horseback riding!

brown and white horse running in grass

Image: venomxbaby.deviantart.com

Suggested Gear:

  • Helmet
  • Elbow/Knee Pads
  • Long Pants

For your safety, check out our Pocket Ranger® gear store for these items and much more.

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