COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. (CNN) — At least six people in the West have been killed in avalanches recently as the risk of snow slides remains high.
Two people were killed in each of three states: Oregon, Utah and Colorado.
But an avalanche doesn’t always have to be a death sentence. Armed with the right equipment, it’s possible to survive one.
A backcountry ski outing in Switzerland turns into a horrifying experience for Kristoffer Carlsson, who wore a helmet cam. He came very close to documenting his own death in an avalanche.
The video shows him buried about 5 feet under the snow, unable to move. Carlsson is hoping the skiers he was with find him before he suffocates.
And they do; he’s a very lucky man.
On the average in the United States, 28 people die each year from avalanches — often with hundreds of tons of snow plummeting down the mountain.
As the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Ethan Greene is one of the top avalanche experts in the U.S. His state agency’s responsibility, in part, is to forecast the probability of avalanches.
And he takes CNN reporter Gary Tuchman away from the resort at Colorado’s Copper Mountain and into the backcountry — where most avalanches happen — to learn about the three essentials for backcountry skiers.
“Beacon, probe, shovel. Those are the three things you have to have with you,” says Greene.
“We all put on one of these, so they are transmitting. They send out a signal, so later in the day, if you get buried in an avalanche, I’ll be able to set mine to receive, pick up your signal, and locate you,” says Greene.
The probe and the shovel:
“This is a 3-meter probe pole. So what this allows me to do is once I get your general location with the beacon, I can pinpoint you with this probe and then use the shovel to dig down to the tip,” says Greene.
There is also a fourth item that can keep you above the rampaging snow threatening to bury you: the airbag pack.
A victim sometimes doesn’t even have a chance in a huge avalanche.
“It’s so dense you can’t dig yourself out,” says Greene. “Sometimes you can’t expand your lungs to breathe.”
But if you’re alive after the snow stops moving, having the right equipment can mean the difference between life and death — just like it did for Kristoffer Carlsson.