Ski Safety • Avalanche Awareness

Every year across the world, the lives of around 200 recreational skiers, snowboarders and mountain climbers are lost as a result of them being caught in avalanches. Put into perspective, a tourist is actually statistically more likely to suffer a fatal accident while travelling to or from their resort, but this cheerful fact will be of no comfort to the friends and relatives of those who have died after being caught up in one of nature’s most spectacular killing events.

Avalanches are predictable

Occurring in roughly the same places and times of year. The ski-resort authorities know about these and take appropriate measures to warn the tourists of the risks. There are however ‘rogue’ avalanches that strike without warning and catch whole communities unawares and these are the mass killers, capable of wiping out whole villages in their wake as the slide down the mountain.

Three general avalanche types

Powder Avalanche

Although rare in Europe, powder avalanches are probably the most dangerous and destructive. When they start, they continue to gather vast quantities of powder snow that combines to form a huge, fast moving cloud that can flatten everything in its path. Any victim caught up in a powder avalanche will almost certainly be suffocated or crushed to death.

Wet Snow Avalanche

These occur when the temperatures rise and are the most common type. Although slow moving, the sheer weight of the materials involved in wet snow avalanches makes them incredibly destructive crushing machines.

Slab Avalanches

These are the most common cause of accidents involving recreational mountain users especially off piste skiers or boarders. They start when dense layers of wind blown snow form at the top of a slope and then split from each other. These often occur when the layer is subjected to the weight of a skier traversing them. These are impossible to detect without special equipment and give no warning to their victims who will find themselves being swept away on top of a moving snow field.

Reducing the Risk

Finally, unless you are experienced and familiar with the terrain, don’t go off the pisted slopes unless accompanied by an authorised guide and never ignore avalanche warnings — it may be the last thing you ever do!