Backcountry Triggered Avalanches: A Summary of Risk Factors, Causes of Death, and Wilderness Medical Management

  • Jacob (Jake) Blanco UBC Faculty of Medicine
  • Adam Stich


Deaths due to avalanches have a significant mortality burden in Western Canada. The aim of this semi-structured review is to summarize risk factors, causes of death, and important mitigation and management strategies in treating avalanche victims. Multiple risk factors for avalanches have been identified, which relate to both physical characteristics of the avalanche environment as well as human factors. Winter backcountry recreationists should be mindful of their motivations for exposing themselves to avalanche dangers, and remain objective to the physical characteristics conferring avalanche accident risk.Asphyxia is responsible for the vast majority of deaths due to avalanche, while trauma remains an important cause in certain geographic areas. Avalanche training courses educate learners on avalanche rescue sequences, which utilize avalanche transceivers, probes and strategic shoveling techniques. The primary goal of rescue is to reduce the median time of burial, thereby decreasing the incidence of asphyxia and, ultimately, death.Following the extrication of an individual from an avalanche, rescuers may have to begin resuscitation efforts. Future developments in avalanche safety should focus on public education of avalanche risk factors, incorporation of Basic Life Support into avalanche training courses and lastly, further development of technologies that may increase survivability.