Avalanche awareness and basic first-aid are critical skills for the backcountry rider. Start or refresh your avy and emergency rescue education here and take a course to solidify your knowledge.

Open Your Eyes And Stay Alive: Using The Five Red Flags by Jeremy Jones

Have you heard of the Five Red Flags? The red flags are simple visual clues that are a sign of potential avalanche danger. I use these observation techniques more than anything else to judge avalanche conditions in the backcountry.

It starts from the second I wake up. When I look out the window on a powder day I see my first red flag – new snow. If I see the trees outside sway in the wind now I have two red flags – new snow and wind transported snow. Seeing recent avalanche activity on the side of the road driving to the trailhead makes three red flags.

Watching shooting cracks break off of my ski tips skinning up or small slabs peel off my board as I am bootpacking makes four.

Before I even get to the trailhead I can use the red flags to make decsisons as to where I can safely go that day. As the red flags pile up my terrain plans continue to change. Digging a snow pit to analyze the snowpack is also valuable but it is these simple and quick observations that can be used over and over that are the most important.

Learn the Five Red Flags:

New Snow

90% of human triggered avalanches happen during or within 24 hours after a storm. Give storm snow the utmost respect and assume high to extreme avy danger within 24 hours after a storm. Follow this rule and you will eliminate your risk of getting caught in an avalanche by 90%.

Signs Of Recent Avalanches

If you see signs of natural avalanches (crown lines, avy debris) this is a sign that avy danger should be taken very seriously. Take extra precaution if the natural avalanches have occurred at a similar elevation and on the same aspect as the slope you want to ride.

Collapsing Or Cracking In Snowpack

If you feel the slope collapse under your feet or hear whomping sounds this is a sign of unstable layers in the snowpack. Cracks may also shoot out from your skis or board as you skin or ride in fresh snow. These are all signs of dangerous snow layers.

Rapid Rise In Temperature

No matter the starting temperature, any rapid warm up is dangerous because the snowpack does not have time to adjust to the temperature change. Take extra precaution on the first warm day after a storm cycle.

Strong Winds, Blowing & Drifting Snow

If the wind is strong enough to transport snow then the avalanche conditions can change from stable to dangerous without any new snow. Watch for blowing snow on high ridges and beware of wind loaded pockets at the top of faces and chutes.


Leave the ego at the trail head.

Just Say No

The mountains are guilty until proven innocent. Celebrate backing down.

Ride For Tomorrow

Pick your spots to hit 5th gear. The season is a marathon not a sprint.


The more critical the line the smaller the window it is safe to ride.

Present Moment

Give the mountains the respect and attention they deserve.

Backcountry Checklist


- Boards
- Boots
- AVY Gear
- AVY Beacon
- Poles / Skins
- Gloves / Goggles


- Evaluate your group
- Check avy report
- Aspects to avoid
- Rescue plan
- Red flags ?

1. Scene size up - Is it safe to rescue?
2. Pick a rescue leader.
3. Switch beacon to search mode.
4. Start beacon search.
5. Zig-zag beacon search.
6. Locate beacon within two meters - begin probe search.
7. Strike at 90°.
8. When probe strike, start shoveling.
9. Begin digging 1.5 times the burial depth downhill from the probe strike. Extract victim carefully.
10. Check A,B,C: Airway, Breathing Circulation (pulse).
11. Start CPR if need: 30:2 chest compress to rescue breath at rate of 100 compress per min.
12. Assess for traumatic injuries, keep victim warm and rescue by helicopter if possible.

(5) Zig-zag beacon search

(6) Locate beacon within two meters - begin probe search

(7) Strike at 90°

(8) When probe strike, start shoveling

Emergency Call

USA/CAN / 911

Europe / 112

Japan / 119



Avalanche Advisory and Education Links

AIARE - American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education
American Avalanche Association
American Avalanche Info
ANENA (France)
CAIC - Colorado Avalanche Information Center
Canada Avalanche Centre
ESAC - Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center
European Alps Avalanche Warning Services
NewZealand Avalanche Center.
Northwest Avalanche Center
SAC - Sierra Avalanche Center
Swiss Alps Avalanche Info
UAC - Utah Avalanche Center