One beast every skier hopes to never meet on the mountain is the avalanche. Pure, destructive, raging nature at her best, an avalanche is a phenomena you never want to encounter, but one you must understand in order to safely navigate the snow. It is estimated that 200 people die globally from a snow slide each year – 90 percent of these deaths are from avalanches triggered by people. Find out the science behind avalanches, how to avoid danger zones, and what to do if one should occur near you.
An avalanche is simply falling snow. Gravity, that same force that lets you ride down the slope and experience the pure bliss and freedom of the mountain, is essentially what creates this natural disaster. Snow slides down the slope of a mountainside. As it moves, an avalanche can gain enormous speed and power. Even a small snow slide at the top of a mountain can become catastrophic by the time it reaches the bottom.
What triggers an avalanche? It can be caused naturally – when too much weight builds up, often right after a storm, the snow can begin to slide. Most avalanches occur during or right after a storm when quickly falling snow increases the weight on the snow. Temperature and wind also play a role. When the temperature rises above freezing and some snow melts, water seeping into the snow crystals acts as a lubricant, weakening layers of snow. Winds can move snow around, producing heavy packs of dense snow that put pressure on the snowpack. A weak layer underneath a strong layer of snow is a recipe for snow fall disaster.
Many avalanches are caused artificially by the extra weight of a skier or a snowmobile. The added pressure can cause a crack in vulnerable areas. Within the crack spreads, the different layers of snow become loose, and the avalanche is on.
Is it possible to avoid danger zones altogether? Here are some of the characteristics of avalanche vulnerable terrain:
What should you do if one does happen to occur near you?
Hopefully you will never face an avalanche. Do everything you can to avoid these dangerous natural disasters – stay away from risky terrain and be extremely careful during or directly after a storm. Make sure you have insurance coverage for medical evacuation in case an emergency does occur if you plan on spending time on the slopes. Ski Insurance provides affordable cover for mountain emergency and rescue situations, including avalanche accidents.
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