Asystole in avalanche victims is generally due to asphyxia and not primarily to hypothermia. Hence, on-site establishment of death by asphyxiation would avoid evacuation risks to the rescue party, as well as high costs of transport to, and treatment at, frequently distant specialist centres in cases with a hopeless prognosis. This paper presents a novel differential diagnosis scheme based on burial duration (critical time 45 min) and core temperature (critical level 32 degrees C) of the person on extrication, as well as the presence or absence of an air pocket, facilitating on-site identification of asphyxiated victims. When information regarding an air pocket is uncertain in victims buried longer than 45 min, determination of serum potassium (critical level 10 mmol/l) at the nearest hospital becomes an alternative criterion for triage. The proposed guidelines aim to clarify field decision-making for the emergency doctor with respect to discontinuation of resuscitation and limitation of transferral for cardiopulmonary bypass core rewarming to those patients with presumptive reversible hypothermia.