Monday, January 28, 2008


This year we have had record deaths from Avalanches in Western Canada, as more folks go skiing in the back country. It appears we are not alone. The popularity of skiing beyond the confines of resorts has created a mini-extreme sport, back country skiing, looking to be the first on virgin snow.

However all is not as it seems,under the tantalizing powder lays cracks, crevices and a creaking horror; the avalanche. Especially caused by the lack of consistent cold periods, warming, cold means sheets of ice that are under the fresh fallen snow. This crust is the source of avalanches and cannot be detected until it is too late. As I traveled in Jasper at Christmas, the conditions of bare mountains revealed this deadly fact. And it can take the life of even the most experienced outdoors person.

The fact is that access to the wilderness, to the back country, has been created by technology and infrastructure. However rather than being just another spot to go sport skiing these areas need to be treated as dangerous. Unfortunately the promotion of dare devil extreme sport and the nonchalant idea that skiing is a safe sport means that those taking on the mountains do so without the same regard that more serious adventurers like mountain climbers do.

Back country skiing is not the same as sport skiing in the confines of commercial resorts, and even some of these have been impacted by avalanches this year. Rather it should be treated as seriously as mountain climbing. A dangerous activity that could end in death. Unfortunately it's not treated that way. And thus we have more deaths this year and the season has just begun.

Snowfall to hike BC avalanche risk


According to the Canadian Avalanche Centre, this past year Canada has experienced the deadliest beginning to the avalanche season on record. As of January 2008, there have been ten fatalities since the start of the avalanche season.

And the deaths from avalanches are affecting skiers across the globe.

Skiers are being warned to take extreme care as deaths from avalanches threaten to reach record levels. Even before the peak holiday months of February and March, the number of avalanche deaths in Italy and Austria has exceeded the total for the whole of last winter.

Heavy snowfalls in December and January have been greeted with delight by skiers, but excellent conditions come at a cost. Research by Escape reveals that as of last Thursday, 39 people had been killed in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Austria alone has had 18 fatalities, one more than last year's total.

'We're expecting more deaths every weekend,' said Ingo Kroath, manager of the Innsbruck-based Austrian Board of Alpine Safety. 'The situation is very dangerous at the moment and isn't going to improve until March or April.'

France has recorded eight deaths, double the number at the same time last season, and the situation across the Atlantic is just as bad. The death toll in both Canada and the US has already exceeded the total for last winter.

An often deadly quest for perfect powder Los Angeles Times

Two months into the winter sports season, avalanches have claimed 26 lives nationwide, including three near Mountain High Resort this weekend, in what officials warn may be a record year for mountain fatalities.

Avalanche experts say average annual death tolls have edged up from 20 to 25 over the last decade and are likely to increase as more people with better technology and a new "extreme sports" mentality venture into remote areas in search of untrammeled powder.

But even a seemingly innocuous snowpack can hide tragedy: Layers of snowfall, often interspersed with ice, can slough off at the slightest disturbance.

"There have been avalanche fatalities since people have been in the West and in the Alps, but what has changed is the equipment has gotten better and there's a lot of hype associated with the outdoor retail industry," said Sue Burak, an avalanche forecaster for the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center. "They're encouraging people to go out, and the level of backcountry skills haven't caught up with the technology."

Every avalanche fatality this year, except for one in Utah, involved a person who was skiing, snowmobiling or snowboarding outside of designated areas or in wilderness, with the majority of the deaths in backcountry. Only 1% of all avalanche deaths in the United States occurred within the bounds of skiing or snowboarding resorts. About 11% were out-of-bounds deaths, and the rest were in backcountry.

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Oberon said...

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