Avalanche Burial Facts and Statistics

Retrieved from the most relevant academic research on avalanche burial and survival.

Asphyxia and Oxygen Deprivation

Asphyxia due to burial is the leading cause of death in avalanche accidents. When a person is buried by snow, they face the risk of being deprived of oxygen, leading to asphyxia. This accounts for roughly 75% of all avalanche fatalities.

(Source: Falk, M., & Brugger, H. (2012). Avalanche survival chances. The Lancet, 380(9855), 14-15.)

Burial Time and Asphyxia

The average duration of burial in fatal avalanche accidents is around 35 minutes, with survival rates decreasing rapidly after 15 minutes of burial.

The probability of survival decreases rapidly as the duration of burial increases. After 15 minutes, the chances of survival start to decrease significantly. After 30 minutes, the survival rate drops below 50%, and after 2 hours, it becomes very unlikely to find survivors due to asphyxia.

(Source: Falk, M., Brugger, H., Adler-Kastner, L., & Falk, O. (2008). Resuscitation from avalanche victim with prolonged cardiac arrest treated with extracorporeal re-warming after 5 hours of avalanche burial. Resuscitation, 76(3), 520-526.)

Burial Depth and Asphyxia

The depth of burial also plays a critical role in asphyxia-related fatalities. Victims buried deeper in the snow face higher risks of asphyxia, with survival rates decreasing significantly. For example, the chances of survival for victims buried less than 1 meter is around 90%, while the survival rate for those buried deeper than 2 meters drops to less than 30%.

(Source: Brugger, H., Durrer, B., Elsensohn, F., Paal, P., Strapazzon, G., Winterberger, E., & Zafren, K. (2013). Resuscitation of avalanche victims: evidence-based guidelines of the International Commission for Mountain Emergency Medicine (ICAR MEDCOM). Resuscitation, 84(5), 539-546.)

Education and Rescue Techniques

The use of avalanche safety equipment, such as transceivers, shovels, and probes, is crucial in locating and extricating buried victims quickly to minimize the risk of asphyxia. Studies have shown that the chances of survival increase to over 90% when victims are located and rescued within 15 minutes using these tools.

(Source: Falk, M., & Brugger, H. (2012). Avalanche survival chances. The Lancet, 380(9855), 14-15.)

Proper education, training, and preparedness are essential in preventing avalanche accidents and minimizing the risk of asphyxia. Understanding avalanche terrain, and weather conditions, and practicing safe travel techniques can help prevent accidents and improve survival rates by reducing the risk of burial and subsequent asphyxia.

(Source: Haegeli, P., & Jamieson, B. (2010). Avalanche risk management: translating research into practice. Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, 2(3-4), 65-74.)

Asphyxia due to burial is the leading cause of death in avalanche accidents, and the duration and depth of burial play crucial roles in survival rates. The use of avalanche safety equipment and proper education and training are vital in preventing accidents and minimizing the risk of asphyxia in avalanche incidents.

Medical Needs of Snow Burial Victims

Based on the problem set of oxygen deprivation during avalanche burial, independent medical trials were conducted by the Mountain Medical Research Group at the University of Bergen.

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Independent Medical Trial: Full Burial Testing

Eurac Research has conducted an independent medical trial of Safeback SBX to explore the extent to which the system can extend delay suffocation during burial.

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Find an Avalanche Course

This information is meant to be an introduction to avalanche safety and a knowledge base for backcountry travelers.
But reading it cannot replace real experience in reading conditions and making decisions in the field. We strongly recommend that all backcountry travelers take instructor-led avalanche courses to get hands-on experience in wild snowpacks.