“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime.” — Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps
Avalanches are not rare or random events. Most common during winter and spring, avalanches can occur any time of the year, and they are among the most threatening natural hazards to life and property in mountainous terrain.
Spontaneous avalanches result from either a weakening of a snowpack and gravity or an increased load on it due to precipitation. Avalanches are also triggered by disturbances from skiers, snowmobilers, animals, and seismic activity. A loud noise or shouting, however, is not a trigger as commonly believed unless the sound comes from an explosive device (frequently used to prevent avalanches in at-risk areas by triggering a small avalanche to remove instabilities in a snowpack).
If you ski, board or ride in the backcountry, live in or travel through snow covered mountainous terrain, the threat of avalanches must not be ignored as the dangers are very real.
This too real video by TahoeChappy captures the frightening experience of a backcountry skier as he triggers an avalanche, is buried and miraculously dug out in 4 minutes/28 seconds. He got very lucky. Not everyone gets that kinda luck.
In North America, 42-45 people on average are killed by avalanches (more than 150 worldwide), and hundreds more are injured. Most are snowmobilers, skiers, and snowboarders. Sobering reminders that whether you’re a backcountry expert or newbie, don’t venture out without understanding and preparing for the dangers. The good news — there are many resources available to help you learn how to reduce the risks.
Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center – non-profit organization based in Bozeman, Montana USA supporting avalanche awareness and education – find forecast, information and events
Colorado Avalanche Information Center and Utah Avalanche Center – backcountry avalanche forecasts, observations, accident reports, and education
Avalanche Training recommended by American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) for both recreational and professional backcountry adventurers
What You Can Do? – Avalanche Awareness Tutorial
The Power of Training – Avalanche Canada
European Avalanche School
What To Do If You Get Caught in an Avalanche, by Kate Baggaley, Popular Science (May 16, 2017)
EPIC SKIMO – Free-to-watch ski mountaineers take on extreme challenges of the mountain with a world record & personal goals in mind
A Skier’s Journey A free-to-watch, on-demand video series that follows adventure skiers as they travel the world, discovering great beauty and dangers in the mountains.
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Feature photo is courtesy of Flickr user, Prasan, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0