The DomiDocs Guide to Avalanche Preparedness

“The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.” 

– Theodore Roosevelt

The allure of the wilderness is sure to call upon all of us at one time or another. But the key to enjoying all that Mother Nature has to offer is to be prepared. 

As a homeowner, it can be challenging to navigate the plethora of never-ending and always growing responsibilities along the path to preparedness, just as with a high-speed avalanche that constantly gathers snow as it accelerates downhill. But with some careful planning and awareness, you’ll be better prepared to deal with whatever comes your way.

Are you ready for this?

According to the National Geographic Society, mountains in the western states of America are subject to approximately 100,000 avalanches annually, with 150 deaths worldwide every year. 

Victims of avalanches typically die from lack of oxygen, but others will succumb to suffocation, trauma, and hypothermia, where signs and symptoms can include confusion, drowsiness, fumbling hands, shivering, and slurred speech.

Depending on snow conditions, you could be out enjoying fresh powder and then be hit with an avalanche cloud racing towards you at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour with a weight as much as 1,000,000 tons!

Avalanche stats.

You don’t have to be out enjoying the backcountry to be affected by an avalanche. And it’s hard to accurately state how much avalanches cost the US annually as the economic impacts are so far reaching. Besides damaging or destroying houses (estimated by the National Weather Service to cost $2.7 million over a 16-year period), avalanches can cause damage to ski resorts and gondola lift stations, as well as by closing roads and rail lines which can cause stops in the overall supply chain. Towns can be cut off from receiving fuel, food and other basic life necessities, as well as by experiencing job losses. The most avalanche prone states are Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Washington.

Avalanche categories defined.

Both Canada and the US use a five-category danger scale to rate avalanche threats as per

Danger Level Travel Advice Likelihood of Avalanches Avalanche Size and DistributionHeader
Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features.
Natural and human-triggered avalanches are unlikely.
Small avalanches can occur in extreme terrain or isolated areas.
Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully, while identifying features of concern.
Natural avalanches are unlikely; human-triggered avalanches are possible.
Small avalanches may occur in specific areas, or large avalanches can happen in isolated areas.
Dangerous avalanche conditions. Utilizing careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding, and conservative decision making are essential.
Natural avalanches are possible; human-triggered avalanches are likely.
Small avalanches in many areas; or large avalanches in specific areas; or very large avalanches in isolated areas may occur.
Very dangerous avalanche conditions. Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended.
Natural avalanches are likely; human-triggered avalanches are very likely.
Large avalanches may occur in many areas, or very large avalanches in specific areas.
Avoid all avalanche terrain.
Natural and human-triggered avalanches are certain.
Large to very large avalanches will occur in many areas.

How long is the avalanche season in America?

While most avalanches occur during winter, especially from December to April, several regions in the US retain snow year-round, including:

  • Crater Lake National Park, OR
  • Grand Teton National Park, WY
  • Inyo National Forest, CA
  • Mount Hood National Forest, OR
  • Mountain Rainier National Park, WA
  • North Cascades National Park, WA
  • White Mountain National Forest, NH

The USDA Forest Service has recorded avalanches in each month of the year, with the most fatalities occurring from January to March.

How DomiDocs can help you navigate through a storm.

The keys to helping you weather any natural disaster are always going to be the same: knowledge and organization. It basically comes down to homeowner responsibility and doing your due diligence to protect both your family and your home before a disaster strikes. Use the secure, award-winning DomiDocs homeowner platform to:

  • upload a detailed home inventory list itemizing your home’s contents including receipts, photos, and videos of your home’s current condition
  • store and catalog your proprietary household paperwork using the Insurance Document Bundle feature where your insurance policies are listed to show the company, coverage, cost, and start- and end-date of each, displayed with a calendar timeline for quick reference when needed. Besides for your own use, you can share with your insurance agent at the touch of a button if need to file an insurance claim
  • work your way through our comprehensive DomiDocs New Homeowner Guide offering best use instructions to help prevent homeowner claims

The basics of avalanche preparedness., the American Red Cross, and the National Weather Service recommend the following:

Before an avalanche, take the time to:
Determine your personal avalanche risk.
Do you know if you live in an avalanche-prone zone? Consult the US Forest Service Center nearest you to determine avalanche-prone locations and be sure to sign up for your community and/or US Forest Service alerts. Practice due diligence before heading out into the backcountry by telling your family and friends where you'll be heading and how long you’ll be gone, while always traveling in pairs for added safety measures.
Know the signs of an avalanche.
  • Shooting cracks around your feet or across slopes, and recent avalanche activity are signs of increased risk, especially along slopes of 30-degrees and steeper
  • The ground may feel hollow, or you may hear drum-like or strange sounds as you walk, both signaling a snow slab may imminently release
  • Significant warming/rapid increase in temperatures, with snow quickly falling from trees
  • Heavy rain or snowfall in the previous 24 hours
  • A roaring sound and heavy vibration as the raging snowpack makes its way downhill

Check the daily weather forecast from your backcountry avalanche center before leaving home. Be a responsible hiker/snowmobiler/snowboarder/skier and don't head out unless you're 100% certain conditions are favorable

Develop an evacuation plan.

Every member of your family needs to know what your homeowner evacuation plan is. Where will you go? How will you get there? What optional evacuation routes will you have if your initial choice is blocked? Where will you stay? Knowing these basics in advance can help stem panic during an actual natural disaster situation. Have a to-go bag in place with all the supplies you’ll need, including items for your pets. If you’ll need assistance in traveling, you’ll need to confirm with someone in advance. And be sure to follow any evacuation orders that have been issued. As a family, discuss how you can help your neighbors during a natural disaster by checking in or helping them evacuate as well.

Assemble disaster supplies for your family members and your pets.

The American Red Cross recommends gathering 2 emergency supply kits:

  1. A Go-Kit: with a 3-day supply of items you can carry with you, including chargers for your devices (cell phone, wheelchair, CPAP, etc.) and backup batteries; as well as non-perishable food, water, and medications. Cash is also important to have on hand as ATMs may not be working/accessible. 
  2. A Stay-at-Home Kit: with a 2-week supply of the above items.

NOAA recommends adding the following to round out your emergency disaster supply kits, where applicable:

  • masks, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizer
  • non-prescription medicine such as antacids, anti-diarrhea, and pain relievers
  • contact lens solution/prescription eyeglasses
  • baby bottles, formula, wipes, diapers, and diaper rash cream
  • feminine hygiene supplies
  • sleeping bags/blankets
  • a change of clothing for each family member, including sensible footwear
  • fire extinguisher
  • matches in a fireproof container
  • mess kit with plates, utensils, cups, and paper towels
  • activities for kids like puzzles, games, or books
Review/update your homeowner insurance policy.

It’s estimated that 40% of Americans can’t find an important household document when needed, so the first step is to upload your vital household documents to our user-friendly digital platform, so there’s easy access 24/7/365. Secondly, reassess your homeowner policy to ensure you have the best coverage to fit your needs. Compare the cost and coverage that you have in place, to what else is available from your current insurer and other companies. If there have been any major additions to your home and/or contents in the last year, it’s time to review your homeowner insurance policy to ensure it’ll cover your new additions. Typically, standard homeowner insurance policies do not include avalanches but additional coverage may be available in your area, so be sure to consult your local insurance professional.

Make your home disaster-resistant.

Depending on where you live across America, insurance companies may reward your efforts in making your home disaster-resistant by offering discounted homeowner insurance premiums. This can include strengthening structural areas and upgrading plumbing systems to avoid possible flooding that could occur after the snowpack from an avalanche melts.

Have supplies on hand to make emergency repairs.

Such supplies can include plastic sheeting, tarps, sandbags, and/or plywood, plus the necessary tools to apply these to your home like a staple gun and/or duct tape.

Before an avalanche consider adding these to your emergency repair toolbox:

  • gloves
  • an ax
  • a broom
  • a shovel
  • rope
Have avalanche safety equipment and rescue gear on hand.
  • helmets
  • a backpack with inflatable airbags that will help you to remain close to the surface during an avalanche and create vital air pockets
  • a foldable shovel to dig out someone who is trapped
  • a collapsible probe to locate someone who’s been covered by snow
  • an avalanche transceiver to signal others if you’ve been trapped underneath the snow
  • regularly practicing mock rescue scenarios so you know how to correctly use your gear/equipment
Complete a written disaster plan.
Now that you’ve got everything in place, there’s no better way to solidify it than by making a written plan, which should include regularly practicing your escape route, and maintaining your disaster prep plan supplies by replacing expired items. Ensure your plan includes a contact list, with at least one contact who lives outside the impacted area; share your disaster plan with family and friends. Register on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website so friends and family will know you are okay.
Take the time to emergency life-saving skills.
The American Red Cross recommends that adults and kids around the age of nine learn first aid and CPR skills. Take a backcountry training course which teaches basics like avalanche formation, identifying avalanche terrain, warning signs, and companion rescue skills.
When an avalanche is happening:
Do your best to stay calm if you're trapped in an avalanche as panicking/rapid breathing can quickly deplete any oxygen supply.
Deploy your airbag so you’ll stay on top of the snow rather than beneath it.
If you're about to be buried under the snow, push your arms upwards in hopes of creating an air pocket.
If possible, remove yourself from the snow slide and get to safety; use tree branches to create leverage.
Once you're safe, call 911 and locate your partner. Activate your transceiver and use a probe to locate your buddy beneath the snow.
Always seek medical attention if you’ve been in an avalanche, as many times the adrenalin rush causes a lack of injury awareness.

The Problem with Insurance Companies

When you’re in the midst of dealing with a natural disaster, there’s no doubt you’ll also be dealing with your insurance company. DomiDocs CEO and Founder, William McKenna, advises to never accept your insurance company’s first settlement offer as chances are it’ll be a low-ball offer they’re just hoping you’ll take without question. Many attorneys agree that the initial offer by an insurance company should immediately be rejected. What should you do? Access your personal profile on the DomiDocs home management platform, and submit your documented receipts, photos, and videos to your insurance adjuster with just one click. Take the time to factor in missed wages, medical bills (current and future), vehicle repairs, and any other losses that occurred before accepting any settlement offers.

Never accept an insurance company’s first settlement offer: McKenna himself was initially offered a $13,500 settlement offer for damages sustained to his home’s roof by a sudden, unexpected microburst. By providing his documentation already stored in the DomiDocs Homeowner Platform, McKenna’s settlement was increased to $201,000, proving true the immeasurable value of DomiDocs.

DomiDocs has your back! Whether it’s avalanche preparedness, How To File an Insurance Claim, or mental health tips in The DomiDocs Guide: What to Do After a Hurricane Hits, we’re here for every step of your homeowner journey.

DomiDocs HomeLock™ can provide you with an extra layer of protection by digitally locking your home against virtually all homeowner fraud, including title & deed theft. Why? Because property fraud is the fastest growing crime in America! Visit HomeLock™ today to watch our introduction video, and when you sign up, you’ll receive your comprehensive 7-year home history report and scan free of charge.