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Avalanches: A survivor's story

The side of a mountain suddenly collapses, transforming a pristine white blanket into a raging wall of destruction and death. An avalanche used to be considered an unpredictable, and rarely survivable, force of nature. But with each tragedy experts have learned more about why avalanches happen, how their impact can be minimized and what people can do to survive their terrible force.

Buried in the snow, Stacy Smith's heartbeat slowed in the freezing temperature. Smith's tent collapsed around him when a powerful avalanche tumbled down the side of Mount Baker. When he raised his arms to push himself up, snow fell like water on his face, suffocating him. "It was very quiet, terrifying really," he recalls of his harrowing winter camping experience in this CBC Radio interview. "In that brief instance I realized there was no one outside to dig us out." 
• Smith and his two fellow campers survived the avalanche and made their way to safety.
• According to the Canadian Avalanche Association, the typical avalanche casualty is a male in his twenties.
• The word avalanche derives from the French verb for "swallow," avaler.

• The deadliest avalanche on record occurred in the Peruvian Andes in 1970 when an earthquake set off an avalanche of rocks and snow that buried two towns. Approximately 20,000 people were killed in the deadly natural disaster.
• In 2004, Parks Canada and the Canadian Avalanche Association unveiled a new warning system for the 2004/2005 season. Color-coded icons on printed maps (red - high risk, yellow - medium risk, and green - low risk) pinpoint dangerous areas users should avoid.
Medium: Radio
Program: Richardson's Roundup
Broadcast Date: Jan. 9, 1998
Guest(s): Stacy Smith
Host: Bill Richardson
Duration: 5:09

Last updated: March 22, 2013

Page consulted on December 30, 2013

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