Avalanches


     Avalanches are massive downward and outward movements of snow and ice as well as
soil and rocks. Three main factors that determine whether avalanches are likely
to occur are the weather, the snowpack, and the terrain. The weather is the most
important factor in determining if an avalanche will occur, but the other two
factors need to be taken into consideration as well. Since ninety percent of all
avalanches involve human subjects that trigger them, they are a major threat to
life (McCafferty 38). Avalanches can leave death and destruction in their path
and pose a great threat to the skiing industry. Most ski resorts in the western
part of the United States try to prevent avalanches. They acquire specially
trained personnel to toss grenade like explosives or shoot a bazooka like shell
into the slope. The gun they use to shoot these projectiles is a 105-millimeter
recoilless rifle (Cone 148). The explosives trigger the avalanche. They fire
them into the mountain early in the morning so that the risk of having an
avalanche during ski hours is lowered but even though they do this, it is not a
definite that an avalanche could not happen. By studying the mountain the
avalanche patrol learns where avalanches normally occur. These are called sweet
spots. Avalanches often follow the same tracks year after year because they get
funneled into the same valleys. In these areas, trees do not grow because they
keep being removed by the avalanches. The shooting of these explosives is very
successful and fortunately no one has ever been injured or killed (Goodwin 42).

Avalanche experts offer these recommendations for skiers to follow so they can
avoid or deal with avalanches. Their first rule is to know your terrain. Most
avalanches occur on mountainsides where the slope is thirty degrees or greater.

Secondly, do not ski alone. Only a few avalanche victims survive without help
from others. Another recommendation is to know what to do if you are caught in
an avalanche. You should try and dart to the side of the slide and if possible
try to grab a tree. If you are carried down hill, swim with the avalanche so
that you will stay on top. Finally, skiers should carry the appropriate
equipment. Some things that backcountry skiers should carry are an avalanche
probe, snow shovel, and an electronic avalanche beacon or transceiver (Fish 28).

The experts also give you advice on what to do if you are buried. First, keep
one hand in front of your face and try to clear and maintain an air pocket.

Second, try to maintain space for chest expansions by taking and holding a deep
breath. Finally try to avoid panic and conserve energy. Your companions are
probably searching for you (Sisson 103). Ski resorts have recommendations on
what to do if you witness an avalanche. First, mark the point of entry where the
victim has entered or where the victim was last seen. Second, check for further
avalanche danger. Third, fan out in a line above the last place where the victim
was seen and walk downhill, probing with sticks or ski poles. Next, unless your
party is large do not send back for help until you have searched for at least an
hour. About half of all avalanche victims suffocate within the first thirty
minutes and most rescue attempts from town end up being a body search (McCafferty

38) Many ski resorts give a daily avalanche report. Although it does not apply
for the majority of the alpine skiers it applies to the backcountry skiers.

These are people that ski in ungroomed parts of the mountain. Ungroomed snow has
a higher risk of starting an avalanche because it is loose and has not been
compacted. Some mountains have search dogs that can do incredible work. These
dogs can do the work of twenty-five human ground searchers. Since there are so
many deaths from avalanches the National Ski Patrol demands for search dogs. A
few dogs are on full time duty. It takes about a year to train them, but for
them to stay attentive and on focus they need constant practice (Finkel 28).

Western states have Skier Safety Acts which skiers need to obey. When certain
ski study areas are closed skiers need to follow the rules. The Ski Patrol could
set off a slide on top of violators or the trespassers could set a slide on top
of the patrollers. The violators are fined and have their ski passes suspended
(Sisson 102). Snow avalanches are a major danger in high mountain areas. In the

Dolomites of Italy during World War I, six thousand troops were killed in a
single day by avalanches. This is just one of the major disasters that
avalanches have caused over the years (Cone 148). In the 1992-1993 year the
number of avalanche deaths soared to an all time high. There were twenty-six
deaths and eighteen of them were skiers or snowboarders, the others were
snowmobilers, snow climbers, hunters, and mountain climbers (Finkel 28). Since
snow slides down mountains at speeds of two hundred miles per hour it can cause
death and destruction to towns, cities, and roads. When the snow comes down the
mountain at this extremely fast speed it levels everything in its path including
humans, roads, and buildings. It also cost the government a lot of money to
clean up after the wall of snow, or avalanche, settles. Heavy machinery is
needed to remove the snow and debris out of the towns or off the roads and this
takes many hours to do and is extremely expensive. In avalanche country the
focus is on prevention, not first aid. The truth is that avalanches are deadly
and you always need to be precautious of them. They claim the lives of seventy
percent of their victims (McCafferty 38). In avalanche territories there are so
many centers, programs, and other facilities provided for human safety against
avalanches. Avalanches are a major threat to the skiing industry and will cause
death and destruction if they are not prevented.

Bibliography

Cone, Patrick "Ready, Aim, Fire!" Sunset January 1993: 148 Finkel,

Michael "Six Feet Under" Skiing October 1993: 28-30 Fish, Peter
"Avalanche" Sunset January 1995: 28 Goodwin, Peter. Landslides,

Slumps, and Creep. New York: Franklin Watts, 1997 McCafferty, Kieth
"Avalanche" Field and Stream February 1996: 37-38 Sisson, Dan.
"Grandpa and the Kid." Field and Stream October 1992: 54+