SEVEN AVALANCHES MYTHS


 
Staying Alive in Av Terrain

Expert source:
Bruce Tremper, author of Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. Tremper is director of the Utah Avalanche Center; he coordinated backcountry avalanche safety preparations for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He has been featured on nearly a dozen television documentaries about avalanches, including those produced by National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.

Myth: Noise triggers avalanches.
Fact: Most noise does not exert enough force. For noise to be the cause, it must be a tremendously loud noise like an explosive going off at close range. In almost all avalanche fatalities, the avalanche is triggered by the weight of the victim or someone in his party.

Myth: An avalanche is a bunch of loose snow sliding down the mountain.
Fact: Loose snow avalanches account for only a small percentage of deaths and property damage. When professionals talk about avalanches, they generally refer to "slab" avalanches—cohesive plates of snow sliding as a unit.

Myth: Avalanches strike without warning.
Fact: Avalanches usually have obvious signs. They are only the most spectacularly visible event in a long series of precursors leading up to the grand finale. The process begins many hours—or even days—before, usually when new snow or windblown snow begins to pile weight on top of a buried weak layer.

Myth: If you see an avalanche coming, get out of the way.
Fact: You can try to outrun an avalanche, but it's doubtful you succeed even on a snowmobile or skis—especially since the vast majority of avalanche accidents are triggered by the victim.

Myth: When buried in an avalanche, spit to tell which way is up and dig in that direction.
Fact: It doesn't matter which way is up—avalanche debris instantly entombs you in place, as if you were frozen in concrete, and most of the time you can't even move your fingers.

Myth: If you've traveled across a slope a hundred times and never seen an avalanche on that slope or heard one reported, that slope is always safe.
Fact: Any slope capable of producing an avalanche eventually will. Snow is stable 95 percent of the time—but not 100 percent.

Myth: If you make it across a slope without incident, there's no avalanche hazard on that slope.
Fact: In most close calls, the average person is not even aware they had a close call, "kind of like playing soccer on a minefield and you didn't weigh quite enough to set the thing off."

-- Adapted from Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain, 2nd Ed by Bruce Tremper, The Mountaineers Books, 2008

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