We’ve all seen the news reports about the deaths in Canada, Colorado, Utah. This is shaping up to be a terrible year for avalanches.

It’s important to remember that avalanches aren’t just limited to the backcountry. This season, there’ve been in bound avalanches at Jackson Hole, Squaw Valley, Snowbasin, and Snowbird.

What causes an avalanche? Wind, temperatures, slope angle, all play a part. Generally, avalanches occur when a weaker layer of snow is unable to support a heavier layer on top. The ensuing instability can cause snow to break away as a slab or crash down the slope in a raging torrent.

No matter what your experience, anyone can get caught in an avalanche. However, there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk:

  • Heed avalanche warnings. No, you are not immune. Nor are you invincible. Check with area experts. When those in the know say that avalanche danger is high, do yourself a favor and listen.
  • Tell people where you’re going. If you plan to head out to ski even for an hour — especially in the backcountry — make sure someone knows where you’re heading, and when you expect to be back.
  • Don’t travel alone. And make sure you and your companions have received avalanche training and know how to conduct a search and rescue operation.
  • Have proper equipment. This includes a transmitter. Make sure it’s set on “transmit” rather than “receive.” And make sure more than one person has a shovel.
  • If you get caught in an avalanche, try to stay on top of the snow. It’s best if you can remain on your belly with your head pointed toward the bottom of the slope, if at all possible.
  • Use common sense. Don’t go where you shouldn’t go. If you have no avalanche training and conditions are dicey, stay away.

Stay safe out there, everyone.