AVALANCHE! PROOF THAT WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW CAN KILL YOU
Yes, avalanches are humbling proof that ignorance can be deadly. Anyone traveling in potential avalanche terrain whether by skis, snowboard, snowshoes, or snowmachine should understand how to evaluate avalanche hazard, choose safe travel routes, and know rescue techniques. Three UAF students were killed in an avalanche in 1996; typical of many avalanche victims, they had some outdoor skills, but limited knowledge about avalanche hazards.
The best way to learn about avalanches is to take a three day "level one" avalanche course. The Anchorage based Alaska Mountain Safety Center offers these courses in Hatcher Pass and Thompson pass every Spring. For now here are some Avy basics:
Avalanche hazard awareness is increasing , but carrying a beacon alone has limited benefit. Many people are killed by trauma in avalanches so avoiding them in the first place is more important than rescue afterwards.
After an avalanche has occurred, quick rescues are essential: After half an hour under the snow, if the buried victim survived the slide itself, their chance of survival falls to 50%. The longer the victim remains buried, the smaller their chances of survival. Avalanche rescue tools: avalanche beacon (457Mhz transceiver), probe, and shovel are all critical to a quick rescue. Everyone in your party should carry such equipment when in avalanche terrain. Practice beacon searches and using your probe before you need to use them.
Natural factors that contribute to avalanche hazard:
- Weather —Heavy snow? Rain? Wind loading? Solar or temperature warming?
- Terrain —Most avalanches occur on slopes of 30-45 degrees
- Snowpack —weak or unstable layers in snowpack?
How about you? Nearly all avalanche victims start their avalanche. Do you know how to avoid avalanches? Have you considered the possibility of an avalanche? Are you seeking out dangerous slopes for highmarking or a steep ski/board run? Watch for clues!
Look for clues to avalanche danger —Are the slopes avalanching all around you? South slopes only? Certain angle slopes? Is the snow settling (Whumphing noises)? Are there shooting cracks? Weak layers in the snowpack?
Want to learn more?
- Check the web: www.avalanche.org
- Borrow Winning the Avalanche Game video from the UAF library
- Borrow the pamphlet Snowsense from Outdoor Adventures in the Wood Center