Avalanches. Moutaineers on the jagged slopes of some unnamed Himalayan ridge, villagers in the Alps living in the shadows of mighty peaks. Those are the folks who need to worry about avalanches, not us, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. Anyone who ventures into the snowy mountains is at risk. Think I'm exaggerating? Check out the latest season's avalanche accident reports at Avalanche.org. Many were typical folks out for some winter fun. Others were experienced backcountry types who either screwed up or were simply unlucky. Sure, you're still at greater risk driving to the trailhead, but unlike car accidents, avalanche danger can usually be noted and avoided before becoming a problem. And in those cases where you or someone in your group is caught, proper equipment with even moderate training can improve survival odds from "fat chance" to "I'm sick of hospital jello".
This page is not meant to be a comprehensive resource for avalanche education, but I felt I could at least give you a starting point for your own research. As you go through the links here, you'll discover a few things:
An avalanche beacon, avalanche probe, and backcountry snow shovel for EVERY member in your group may seem like a high cost addition to your winter (or snow zone) packload. But when you or your friend/family member are entombed below several feet of cement-like snow, immobilized and suffocating in darkness, a few hundred dollars and a few hours of training and practice will seem the smallest price to pay. Even more so when one realizes that avalanche beacons (generally sold for around US$250) can be rented for a few dollars a day.
That's all I'm going to say on the topic. Below are some links to help get you started. As I say in my disclaimer, Darwinism is the law in the backcountry. Your survival is up to you. Train, equip, and travel accordingly. Knowledge is power, common sense is your personal avatar. Squander either at your own peril.
Recent Avalanche Accidents
A good article (including survivor's description)
Avalanche FAQ (Avalanche.org)
Avalanche Safety (MountainZone.com)
Avalanche Education and Awareness (NWAC)
Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC)