Avalanche information can sometimes be overwhelming. Without becoming a snow scientist, recreational riders can take a few simple steps to become better educated in avalanche awareness. During the summer of 2013, the International Snowmobile Manufactures Association, Canadian Avalanche Center and USDA Forest Service National Avalanche Center collaborated to produce a simple yet effective avalanche safety messaging system for snowmobilers. The messaging system consists of five bullet points.
As an avalanche forecaster and educator I pay close attention to teaching the recreating public about heuristic traps, aka human-factors, and their role in avalanche accidents. A powerful voice is Powder Magazine’s riveting five-part Human-Factors series which did a great job of pointing out those traps.
One night in 1981 Doug Richmond and Tom Pratt decided to offer an avalanche class at Montana State University for both students and people living in the community. Seven nights of lectures for $7. At the time a beer was a dollar, and they figured each lecture was worth a beer. Now, 33 years later, we only charge $30. The class has four lectures over two nights followed by a field day just out of bounds at Bridger Bowl which has been a supporter of the class from the beginning. In the last ten years, we have taught this class to more than 3,000 people. It is called Introduction to Avalanches with a Field Session.
R: RESTRICTED. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Lynne Wolfe, editor of TAR, asked me to jot a few thoughts down on how we manage surface hoar once it is buried. This is the email I sent back to her.
The winter of 2013/14 was a busy one for the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center. Over the course of the winter, 80 avalanche incidents were reported in southwest Montana. The incidents reported included 33 people caught, 5 partial burials, 5 full burials and 2 fatalities, but this is, unfortunately, not the full picture. Inherently, many avalanche events were never reported to the forecast center.
Put your shovel in the snow!
This simple act could save your life. Pausing to assemble your shovel and dig a few scoops can sometimes reveal a hidden but, once exposed, obvious weak layer. Taking a few more minutes to perform an Extended Column Test (ECT) may give you strong evidence of unstable slopes. When conditions seem good most people have already made their decision to ski or not by the time they reach the top of a slope, but an ECT might change your mind and save your life. Conversely, if you decide to not ski because of dangerous conditions there is no need to dig. Regardless of experience, if we play in avalanche terrain we should hunt for instability.
There are no stoplights in the backcountry. The decision to ride into uncontrolled-avalanche terrain is a personal one with risks and rewards. Done correctly, pinning the throttle through a field of untracked powder or climbing a steep mountain face can produce unmatched excitement, but riding in avalanche terrain can produce severe and sometimes deadly consequences. A great way to increase the margin of safety in the backcountry is to reduce uncertainty about snowpack stability by gathering meaningful information that is relevant to the day’s riding plan.
By Karl W. Birkeland1, Edward Bair and Doug Chabot.
Conducting stability tests in avalanche terrain is inherently dangerous since it exposes the observer to the potential of being caught in an avalanche. Recent work shows that such exposure may be unnecessary since the results of extended column tests (ECTs) and propagation saw tests (PSTs) are largely independent of slope angle, allowing for data collection in safer locations.