"Safety Soapbox" Archive -
Avalanche Incident Causes
Almost all of this years avalanche fatalities have occurred during
a period of high hazard, and in some cases a during a warning. This
is not unusual except for the larger number of people getting caught
this season. It is rare for people to get caught due to some misinterpreted
fine point in a snowpit - these incidents come down to two things:
Terrain/Routefinding: This is the easiest and quickest topic
to cover indoors in a class, but can be the most subtle to learn to
truly appreciate in the field. You can choose to avoid the avalanche
hazard entirely by wise terrain choices for the existing conditions.
Learn to spot "terrain traps" such as gullies where snow accumulates
in a slide and small slopes with bad runouts such as small cliff bands.
Human Factors: Learn about group dynamics and communication
and give it some thought. How is your group making its decisions? Is
the group all in agreement on what acceptable risk is? What is the leadership
style? Why is each person there - to have a fun day, to impress somebody
The best time to begin addressing these factors is in the planning stages. A well planned trip, with alternatives suitable for different conditions and situations, minimizes the chances of ending up in unsuitable terrain. Likewise, good planning that chooses routes and objectives for the participants (or participants suitable for the objective) minimizes "human factors" problems in the field.