Prior to the onset of skiing as a mass sport, most deaths in the snow occurred due to exposure to the elements, often in blizzard conditions and, as experienced by the unfortunate Agnes, not always in a mountain environment.
Similar local newspaper reports find Colin Hutchinson dead from exposure at Nimitabel near Cooma in September 1893, a watchman named Butler frozen to death in a snowstorm in Corryong in July 1901 and William McTiernan dead in a snowstorm at Michelago near Canberra in September 1934. Local newspapers have recorded many similar cases of death by snow over the past century or so.
These days, most deaths in the snow tend to be in or near our major ski resorts and collision rather than exposure has been the main factor, with around one fatality a year.
Deaths in the backcountry, however, have been relatively small in number for the obvious reason that far fewer people have ventured into this space but this is changing rapidly with the increase in the number of skiers, the improvement in ski touring equipment and the growing popularity of this pursuit.
Apart from the obvious threats of extreme weather, unfamiliar terrain and exposure to the elements, the snowpack itself can be a deadly threat to the unwary.
Avalanche! The word has a scary tone to it and with good reason. Those caught in an avalanche rarely survive to tell their tale.
While our mountain slopes tend be less steep than those in the relatively younger mountains in regions like the northern hemisphere, avalanches occur frequently, often as a result of collapsed cornices on slopes throughout our backcountry.
There are only three recorded instances of death by avalanche in Australia and in two of those a collapsed cornice was the culprit.
In each of these tragic cases the riders were expert or highly experienced. What they may have lacked was better knowledge of avalanche dangers. In the past, this knowledge was hard to come by unless you had received training outside of Australia. This situation is changing quickly on our local slopes with avalanche safety courses now on offer.
Main Range Backcountry operate Avalanche Skills Training (AST) Level 1 courses run by internationally qualified avalanche instructors in NSW and Victoria, which provide an entry-level decision-making framework that is based on the most advanced knowledge available. An AST 2 course is also available. http://www.mrbc.com.au/ast1-avalanche-safety.html