Terrain Tips Intro: When Unstable Snow Is the Problem, Terrain Is the Solution
I received an email today from a colleague in Utah: “The snow continues to fall in most places and avalanches are still happening. Forty-three human triggered slides in five days here in the Wasatch, with 14 people carried, several of whom were in singular avalanches. People took up to 2000-foot rides and not so much as a scratch. Miraculous?”
In January, the CAIC reported 129 human-triggered avalanches. In February, they reported 122 human-triggered avalanches. Hmmm… I wonder how many more occurred that were not observed or reported? Half again as many? Double is more likely.
This is a high number of human-triggered backcountry avalanches and scary near misses, even in light of the increasing number of backcountry recreationists out there each week. As a guide and avalanche educator, this worries me. I think I know the risk, and my experience tells me that even small avalanches can be dangerous, even deadly.
My head swirls with questions around these incidents. Do people not understand the avalanche risk? Did they read the avalanche forecast? Did they not get it? Was the advisory’s message simply not clear? Did these people have a strategy to reduce the risk? Or did they just leave the house, go where they wanted to go, and roll the dice with a significant chance of harm?
The avalanche risk can be defined with a pretty straightforward formula:
Likelihood of an Avalanche Involvement
The Consequence if Caught
= Chance of Harm