Peter Austen - Avalanche Accident Prevention and Personal Safety in the Backcountry

Avalanche Prevention

Avalanche Accident Prevention and Personal Safety in the Backcountry:
By Peter Austen

You may be a skier, snowboarder or snowmobiler or you just love to hang around in the snow. You must have some knowledge of what is happening in the snowpack if you intend to move across it. You must carry a good strong shovel and an avalanche beacon that you know how to use.Garibaldi Park


The main problem with snow is that it forms layers while different snowfalls accumulate over the winter. Taking a basic one-day avalanche course is essential but there are several tests you can do to determine the stability of the snowpack.

1. Push a ski pole into the snow, if you feel increasing resistance and the pole does not suddenly break through in places the chances are that the slope is fairly stable. If the pole suddenly breaks through then you have hit an unstable layer.
2. If you suspect layers, dig a pit about five feet deep. This is the depth of snowpack that will affect you. Isolate a one-foot square block and put your shovel in the back of this down to about one-foot. Gently pull without levering. The block will probably slide on a layer. Repeat the test going further down behind the block. From this you can tell roughly how stable the snowpack is.
3. If the snow is unstable do a rutschblock. Rutsch means, "slip." In this test you isolate a six-foot square block and jump on it with increasing force until it breaks. If it breaks too easily go home or stay in thickly treed areas.

Garibaldi ParkCauses of Instability in the Snowpack are:

1. Surface hoar, which is essentially frozen dew. If more snow falls on top of this the slope may fail.
2. Depth hoar, which is unstable crystals at ground level.
3. Rain, which goes through the snow and weakens the layers.
4. Effects of wind and sun, which cause loaded slopes of soft windslab.

Hints to Avoid Avalanches:
Remember that

1. Most avalanches are caused by people.
2. Stay away from cornices (overhanging snow) both above and below.
3. When it has snowed nine inches or more in a twenty-four hour period stay out of the mountains for forty-eight hours to allow the snow to consolidate.
4. Call the Avalanche Hotline 1-800-667-1105 or the Canadian Avalanche Association website for up to date information. Even a moderate avalanche rating means using extreme caution.
5. If you have any doubt about the stability of a slope do not go on it.
6. Stay in treed areas or on ridges

What to do if caught in an Avalanche:
Do not panic

Clear an airspace

Do a butterfly swimming stroke

Pray for salvation both on and off this earth.
If you follow the above information your chances are measurably improved.

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Peter Austen - Avalanche Accident Prevention and Personal Safety in the Backcountry