Last winter was the deadliest avalanche season in over a decade, with avalanches claiming the lives of 20 skiers and snowboarders across the United States.
It even outpaced the 2007-08 winter season, when 14 skiers and borders were swept up in avalanches and died.
A new report from Backcountry, called the Avy Bulletin, shed some light on the reasons for the uptick in avalanches and avalanche-related deaths.
According to the report, the 2011-2012 winter season was unusual in many of the states commonly thought of as winter-recreation states, like Colorado and Utah.
“States like Colorado and Utah had close to record-low snow years, leading to unstable, unusual and unpredictable snow packs,” according to the Avy Bulletin: Part 1, written by James Dillon. These precarious snow packs directly resulted in more avalanches.
In the bulletin, Dillon included his Q&A with Bruce Temper, director of the Utah Avalanche Center. Their discussion provides a lot of interesting information on last year’s avalanche conditions, media coverage of avalanche-related deaths, and plans for backcountry education. Temper talks about how they use YouTube and Vimeo for avalanche safety education. He also said they use Twitter for rapid-fire updates to alert skiers and boarders when conditions change or become hazardous. If you’re thinking about doing some backcountry recreation this winter, the Avy Bulletin is definitely worth the read. This is just the first of a three-part series published in Backcountry.
That said, here are some tips for how to maximize your safety while getting fresh tracks in the backcountry during the 2012-2013 winter season:
Take Avalanche Gear
- Portable shovels - make it easier to dig out a victim. Here’s a lightweight, extendable shovel from Backcountry.
- Collapsible Probes – make it easier to prod around for victims in avalanches. They are light, collapsible, and stretch to about 12 feet. Check out this one from Mammut on Backcountry.
- Avalanche Beacons – emit a frequency that other transceivers can home in on, making them the most important piece of equipment to include in your avalanche kit. Check out the Ortovox, available at altrec.com
- Green – safe avalanche conditions
- Yellow – heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain; evaluate snow and terrain carefully; human-triggered avalanches are possible
- Orange – dangerous avalanche conditions; evaluate snowpack very carefully; human-triggered avalanches are likely to happen, and natural avalanches are possible.
- Red – very dangerous avalanche conditions; travel in these areas is not recommended; all types of avalanches are likely; large and very large avalanches are likely.
- Black – extreme avalanche danger; avoid all terrain; natural and human-triggered slides are certain; large to very large avalanches in many areas.