Winter is here, and with it comes the joys of skiing and snowboarding. However, along with these pleasures come some risks that should not be ignored. The most significant danger while on the slopes is avalanches. Therefore, we decided to speak to an expert in avalanche safety to help us understand how important this issue is.
We spoke to John Smith*, a professional ski instructor who has over 20 years of experience in the industry. He has lived and worked in areas where avalanches are common occurrences and has trained extensively in avalanche safety techniques.
“An avalanche occurs when a mass of snow slides down a slope,” says John, “and it’s one of the most dangerous natural phenomena you can face while skiing or snowboarding.” According to him, many people underestimate the dangers of avalanches because they think it only happens in remote areas or backcountry terrains.
However, that’s far from true; even if you’re skiing or riding within resort boundaries, there’s still a risk of being caught up in an avalanche. In fact, during the 2018/19 season alone (the most recent data available), there were 25 reported fatalities caused by avalanches across North America.
So what can skiers do to minimize their chances of getting caught up in an avalanche? “The first step towards staying safe on the slopes is recognizing that you’re always at risk,” advises John. “Avalanche accidents happen quickly and often without warning.”
John recommends taking an Avalanche Safety Course before hitting any mountain area for skiing or snowboarding activities. There are several courses available online or locally offered by certified guides who teach participants about different types of terrain features that could trigger an avalanche like steep slopes and convexities.
Participants also learn how to recognize potential signs indicating high-risk zones such as cracking sounds beneath your feet or seeing fresh cracks forming around your ski poles while moving through deep powdery conditions.
Furthermore, understanding weather patterns and snowpack characteristics is also vital in avalanche safety. “You should always check the weather forecast before heading out and have a good understanding of how different types of snow layers react to changes in temperature, wind, or precipitation,” says John.
When skiing, you should stay within marked boundaries for your level of experience and be aware of any warning signs that indicate unstable conditions like posted warnings or ropes blocking off certain areas. If possible, ski with others who are familiar with the terrain and can assist in case an emergency arises.
In addition to taking precautionary measures while skiing on the slopes, you should also carry essential equipment that could help increase your chances of survival if caught up in an avalanche. John recommends carrying a beacon (transmitter) device that allows rescuers to locate you quickly using radio frequencies emitted by the devise once activated. A shovel and probe pole are also important tools to carry as they help dig people out from beneath debris after being buried under snow.
“Having these pieces of equipment won’t guarantee your safety,” warns John, “but it gives you a fighting chance.” It’s essential to know how to use them correctly as well so practicing beforehand is crucial.
Finally, we asked John if there were any new technologies emerging on the market that might improve avalanche safety. He mentioned several smartphone apps available today designed specifically for skiers interested in backcountry adventures which provide live updates about weather patterns or potential avalanche risks happening nearby.
Moreover, some companies have developed airbags integrated into backpacks which inflate when triggered automatically during an avalanche scenario providing extra buoyancy hence increasing chances of surviving such disasters.
In conclusion, avalanches are lethal forces capable enough to cause significant loss both financially and emotionally; they’re not something one should take lightly because prevention is better than cure. So when planning your next ski trip this winter season make sure you’re prepared by taking necessary precautions such as attending Avalanche Safety Courses offered locally or online courses, carrying the essential equipment mentioned above, and staying updated on weather patterns or potential avalanche risks happening nearby. Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
*Name changed for privacy reasons.