Avalanches have been occurring in the US during the past week. In Utah, four skiers lost their lives, and four survived after being buried by an avalanche. An avalanche takes place when a layer of snow falls and travels downhill rapidly.

Avalanches can occur during any time of the year, but avalanche deaths increase during January and February. CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam says, “Early season snowpack can be highly unstable because of the lack of consistent storms. Once the storm door is open to more frequent snow events in January and February, snow begins to pile up in layers on top of the unstable, early season snowfall.”

On average, 150 people die in avalanches every year worldwide, with approximately 27 in the US. Fourteen people died from avalanches in the US over the past week, taking the death toll to 21 this season.

What to do if when caught in an avalanche

If you get caught in an avalanche, your chances of survival may be higher if you have protective equipment. Skiing with a beacon is advised so that rescue groups can find you. Also, make sure you have a shovel and probe, so you can rescue someone in your group if they get caught in an avalanche.

NOAA guidelines suggest that you don’t ski with your pole straps wrapped around your wrists as poles can serve as anchors in an avalanche. Also, don’t try to outrun an avalanche—instead, try to move to a side at the earliest possible so that you’re out of the oncoming snow’s path.

If you get caught in the snow, try to swim with its flow and do your best to stay on top of it. If you get buried, activate the beacon and keep pushing snow out of your face to create an air pocket for you to breathe until rescuers reach you. Finally, let someone know in advance where you’ll be skiing and stay in touch with them.

Knowing what to do if you get caught in an avalanche can save your life.

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