In the first 15 minutes 93% of all avalanche victims are still alive, most avalanche deaths occur during the fall hitting rocks or trees. From 15-45 minutes 2/3 of victims will die of Asphyxiation. If the victim survives after 45 minutes they have probably found an air pocket and may be able to survive longer but if not rescued they will eventually die of asphyxiation or hypothermia. (in full burial avalanches) Below are some avalanche viedoes. In all these cases the people are very lucky which is not true in many cases.
After watching avalanche videos and hearing of people encounters with them, you quickly get it in your head that you don't ever want to be in a situation where you are looking at a 15 minute time frame to rescue your friends or be rescued. While beacon technology has come a long way in helping to pinpoint the victim, rescue times have not decreased dramatically because you still have to dig the victim out from under a lot of hard packed snow. While we did not practice digging on an avlanche field we practiced probing and digging into a large pile of ice/snow made by a snow plow and it took awhlie to get to the burried beacons.
In order to learn more about avalanche safety, I took the Avalance 1 course at the Silverton Avalanche School. It was a great course that combined classroom hours with time out on the snow. I learned about what some of the causes for weak layers in a snow pack are, how to dig a pit to see the snow layers and conduct tests to get an idea for the stability of the snow. Also about how to determine where good places were to put skin tracks on the way up the mountain and how to come up with different routes down the mountain so as to avoid triggering an avalanche as well as determining safe stopping points so that if an avalanche is triggered multiple people won't get caught in it's path. We also spent some time practicing beacon searches. After the class I realize I still have a lot to learn about safety in the backcountry but now I have the tools to make my own decisions regarding safety and know a lot more about how to stay out of trouble.
On the last day of the class we had a short session in the classroom and then headed out to Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains to do some touring. It was a great day with some great views and tree skiing. Now we just need some more snow in Flag so I can go out and get in some more turns.