Logo Jim Frankenfield
jim@mountain-guiding.com; 1-877-604-0166

Mountain Guiding; Mountain Safety
An Experienced Professional

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Guiding Newsletter

"Safety Soapbox" Archive - February 1998


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 else, etc.?

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.


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