Climbing big powdery mountains is a snowmobiler’s dream. But I looked at the snowmobile avalanche fatalities in the U.S. this past winter and compiled 20 different stats on the accidents/rescues and came up with several “real” stats. Few people look at accidents in depth, instead just giving basics (i.e. number caught, buried, killed).

There’s more to the story, like what went wrong with certain rescues, how slides were triggered, what could’ve been done differently, and why people got caught. The info here is a summary with some conclusions that could make a difference. The main reason rescues are botched is rescuers are not proficient with beacons.

The stats …
• 78% of fatalities occurred on a high danger day.
• 67% of unsuccessful rescues  were due to not being proficient with beacons or the victim/searcher had no beacon.
• 67% of accidents the victim died of asphyxiation.
• 56% of accidents involved multiple riders being caught.
• 22% of accidents, searchers missed visual locating clues.
Of the 30 fatalities in the U.S. last year nine were snowmobilers, about 30%. (Down from a few years ago when it was 50-59%) Most deaths were due to unstable snow and/or a thin snowpack. Scarce snow helped keep fatalities down due to poor riding conditions   

Your Best Chance
1 Don’t just wear a beacon, know how to use it! Get training and practice. Rescues fail without the right gear and poor proficiency with beacons.  
2 No multiple riders on the same slope at the same time! Many partially buried riders last year took valuable time digging themselves out before a more critical rescue.
3 Ride with trained people. Make sure they have avy training, the correct gear and practice good judgment.  
The data shows many riders who were trained and equipped pulled off some great rescues.Having prepared friends makes the difference, but the best thing is to NOT get caught in an avalanche. Alter your riding to fit the danger. 78% of the fatalities were on high danger days. On these days stay off slide-prone slopes and run-out areas. There’s never a day I don’t ride because of the danger, but every day that I ride, where I go is determined by the avalanche report, observations and stability analysis. Always have options and be willing to change routes.

By Mike Duff, Mike Duffy is an expert on sled avalanche training. Find him on