The snow is falling and the stoke is HIGH. Ullr, the snow god, has finally delivered and all is right in the world. With all of this new snow in the West, excitement is high and so is the risk of Snow Immersion Suffocation or (SIS). SIS typically occurs when people fall headfirst in deep snow or a tree well, become immobilized and suffocate. SIS is similar to avalanche rescue in that, the best chance of survival is by partner rescue.
How do people even get into that position? Well, its easier than you think and can happen to anybody. The Tree’s canopy blocks snow, creating a hole around the tree. So when you fall into a tree, especially headfirst, it can be lethal.
According to research done by Deepsnowsafety.Org they say that “90% of people involved in Tree Well/ SIS hazard research experiments could NOT rescue themselves. If a partner is not there for immediate rescue, the skier or rider may die very quickly from suffocation – in many cases, he or she can die as quickly as someone can drown in water”.
BASIC PREVENTION TECHNIQUES
- Ski or ride IN CONTROL
- AWARENESS – if its deep and you are skiing on ungroomed terrain keep it in the back of your mind and remind your partner about the risks. A small conversation could save a life.
- Keep your buddy in sight and or set up meeting points every so often.
- Bring proper gear to get peoples attention (I.E. cell phone, whistle, airhorn) and KEEP IT HANDY. I would recommend even bring beacon shovel probe as well.
- IF you are falling headfirst toward a tree, try to look at an open space next to it, your body tends to follow.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IF YOU ARE BURIED AND STUCK IN THE SNOW?
- As you are falling, try to grab onto anything that can give you leverage to escape.
- Keep calm and DO NOT PANIC, this can cause you to exacerbate the oxygen you have available.
- Try to create space around your head to create an air pocket.
- Use your phone or whistle to notify someone.
- TRUST THAT YOUR BUDDY WILL HELP.
WHAT TO DO IF BUDDY GETS STUCK?
- DO NOT LEAVE THE SCENE. Time is of the essence and you could be the only chance to help.
- Immediately begin to dig out. Focus on finding airway and get that clear first.
- Call for additional support. (Ski Patrol, other people around). Ski patrol number is typically found on back of pass.
People die every year in ski areas and the backcountry due to SIS. IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE and typically happens to intermediate to expert skiers. Take a few minutes before a big pow day and have a conversation with your friends. IT COULD SAVE A LIFE.
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