from the inbox

Avalanche education topics

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from the inbox

Postby Bob » Fri Oct 24, 2008 12:23 pm

Mark, Matt and I recently received an email from Jimmy at the website asking for our thoughts concerning "early season conditions" as they relate to avalanche danger. It seemed like a good topic and I thought it might be interesting to see if any forum members had any thoughts about the topic, so here is the email as I replied:

Bob wrote:Hi Jimmy, I'll take a stab at answering your questions. wrote:

> Hey, my name is jimmy and I am doing an article about the avalanche
> dangers of early season skiing for the online magazine:
> I would love some quotes/advice for the article from you guys if you have
> a moment to answer some questions:
> What is a rough percentage of how active avalanches are in early season
> compared to mid-winter and spring season?

Without going into a lot of "when is early season?" type of qualifications, I'll say that I believe that the answer to this one is that avalanches are just as active in early season as any other time of the year.

Avalanche conditions are established from the first snowfall. An early storm can lay down a firm layer that could develop hoar or a slick bed depending on the weather conditions. If a good sized storm comes after the unstable bed or layer is formed, it could cause a release right away or store up as an unstable layer that could release a day, week, or even months later.

But my point is that the time of season shouldn't play into a backcountry user's assessment of the avalanche conditions and danger. Snowpack assessment should look at all the season-to-date weather factors and cycles, the snow itself, and the terrain no matter what time of year it is. I don't believe there is anything inherently safer or more dangerous in early season snowpack conditions.

A quick review of my two favorite avalanche references - Bruce Tremper's "Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain" and McLung & Schaerer's "Avalanche Handbook Ed. 3" didn't turn up any mention of early vs. late season conditions. They just discuss assessment of the conditions as they exist at the time of backcountry travel - which seems pretty sensible to me.

> Do you need to bring avey gear with you in early season?

Of course.

> What other red flags should you look for in early season backcountry
> skiing?

Exactly the same as late season, including remembering to put fresh batteries in your beacon and practice with it.

> if whoever answers these could leave your name, title and background in
> avalnache education that would be great.
> We would also give you a link back to his website.

Bob Lee
Board member, NNMAE
background: backcountry skier since 1971, professional ski patroller, certified Avy Level II.

Thanks for the link!

Maybe Matt and Mark will have some ideas about all this - guys?


So, did I get it wrong?
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