In 2014 an avalanche in Victoria killed two snowboarders and a skier was buried by an avalanche at Thredbo resort and only survived because he was pushed into a creek bed, which provided an air cavity. In early March 2015 an avalanche in Austria killed an Australian skier.
Shit happens. But you can lower substantially the odds of becoming a victim.
Last year MRBC organised a highly successful series of Avalanche Skills Training (AST-1) courses that provide a good grounding in avalanche safety.
The courses, developed by the Canadian Avalanche Centre, were run by Dave Enright, a Canadian and world-recognised expert in avalanche safety. Here’s a brief snapshot of one of those courses held on the weekend of August 30 and 31 last year.
The first day began with some classroom time at Perisher where our group was introduced to the theory of avalanche safety, as well as the technologies, tools and practices that can maximise safety in the inherently unstable environment that is snow on a mountain slope.
Later in the day, we headed out onto the white stuff, split into pairs and practised some of what we had learned in the classroom. Namely, how to locate a buried avalanche beacon using our own beacons, shovels and probes. In a real emergency, of course, that transmitting beacon would be on the body of a victim buried by an avalanche.
Day two was spent on the mountain. In this case, it was the Tate ridge overlooking Guthega Creek. This was a fun but very busy day. We learned how to cut a snow trench to evaluate the stability of the snow pack – tough work but highly informative. We also practised locating buried beacons, and the technique of probing for an avalanche victim not wearing a beacon.
Most importantly, throughout the day Dave continually had us reviewing four key decision and travel skills:
Trip Planning – planning in advance and anticipating the unexpected.
Identifying avalanche terrain – knowing how to read the terrain for avalanche danger, e.g., beware of that enticingly clear slope between the trees (probably cleared by a previous avalanche) or that slope beneath a convex (and possible unstable) fold at the top of a hill.
Slope evaluation – spotting persistent and deep persistent slabs, which can be triggered from a distance and often on more gentle terrain that is common in our backcountry. These conditions can be generated by recent heavy snowfalls or rain and strong wind. Recent and sudden warming can be another danger factor re instability in the snow pack.
Good travel habits – other than the obvious precaution not to travel alone, this can include following low-angled or treed slopes, avoiding cornices and when crossing a suspect slope, ensure only one person at a time is exposed to the hazard.
In approaching all of these skills, we had lots of fun and learned heaps.
If there is one lesson we took away from this course, it was the importance of RESPECT for the dynamic and ever-changing environment that is the Main Range during our winter months.
- Paul Pearce