On Tuesday, the search for Mitch Hungate was postponed indefinitely. The 60-year-old man had been hiking with two other friends when he was caught in one of two avalanches near Snoqualmie Pass on Saturday.
It’s not an uncommon time of year for avalanches, according to Rich Meyer, a back country ski guide and avalanche educator. He tells Seattle’s Morning News spring can be dangerous because slopes can warm up rapidly.
“We have really warm days and maybe or maybe not cold nights, that’s a really big deal,” says Meyer. “If you’re sticking your foot into the snow and going in up to your knee in mashed potatoes, that should be a red (flag,). You should be on high alert.”
According to Meyer, very few people who are buried in an avalanche have any ability to move even a finger – much less a hand to clear any snow away.
Meyer’s primary advice is to avoid avalanche conditions all together. If you see recent or current avalanche activity in or around where you are currently located, then it’s time to make a change and reevaluate your plan.
But if the worst does happen and you see the avalanche coming, Meyer says to get out of the way. Try to grab a hold of a tree and pull yourself up, tuck behind a massive rock, and if you are swept up, “fight like heck to stay on the surface and call out to let others know that you’ve been caught.”
Once the snow comes to a halt, create an air pocket in front of your mouth.
“There’s actually plenty of air in the snow. Unfortunately what happens is – after you’re breathing in the snow for a few minutes an ‘ice lens’ is created in front of your face which stops the fresh (oxygen) from getting to you.”
To avoid the dangers, Meyer stresses: terrain, terrain, terrain. “Pick appropriate terrain for your group, for your outing and for the conditions.”