Avalanche season in full swing

The ski season may have ended Sunday, but according to Eric White, lead climbing ranger and avalanche specialist of the Mt. Shasta Ranger station, avalanche season is still in full swing.

"It's not over until the snow melts," White said.

The USDA Forest Service weathered a record high avalanche season, with 36 related fatalities for skiers, snowmobilers and snowboarders. There were no fatalities in Oregon but nine avalanche-related deaths were reported in California and four deaths in Washington, according to the Mt. Shasta Ranger station. The last record year for fatalities relating to avalanches was the 2001-02 ski season.

The peak months for avalanches are January, February and March but don't overlook April, May and the summer months as well, especially with the variability of Oregon weather, White cautioned.

White said one of the many misconceptions about avalanches, primarily due to movie scenes, is that avalanches are caused by sound. Rather, shifting weather patterns and human involvement are actually much more related to the breakdown or shifting of snow.

"Snow is at its highest instability during or after storms," White said. The snow settles after a storm, adjusting to the load. "It's important to talk about avalanches because this season has seen the worst avalanche fatalities in the U.S.A. and we still have a few months to go."

During the springtime, the sun is high in the sky and adds more solar radiation to the snow pack for back country skiers, White said, which causes a break down of the snow. Spring can also bring unpredictable amounts of rain that can weaken the stability of the snowpack, which increases the possibility of an avalanche. A slide or shift of snow can give a skier or climber merely a ride down the mountain but has the ability to bury others involved and the skier or climber as well.

"Nature always provides clues to instability," White said. "There is a certain amount of uncertainty in the snowpack." Spacial variability plays a role, where sensitivity of the snow varies over space and time. Wind and sun also play a factor in snow pack and in avalanche activity.

White noted that designated skiing areas are much safer than back country, in terms of the dangers of avalanches. Ski parks are regularly visited making the snow more compact, along with snow park staff who level out the snow. Back country skiing can be more hazardous because as White explains, "Back country slopes may only see 20 people a year," leaving variability in the snow pack.

Mt. Ashland representatives could not be reached, but information on its Web site announces the mountain is prepared for avalanche accidents with avalanche-trained dogs and and an avalanche rescue system in place known as RECCO. The safety system enables the ski patrol to pinpoint skiers and snowboarders caught in an avalanche. The safety system does not replace a transceiver or avalanche beacon &

a device that many outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to wear in the back country. The beacon can help determine location of a buried skier or snowboarder.

Mt. Ashland's Web site encourages skiers and snowbaorders to carry the proper gear when enjoying the mountain, though noting the Ashland Ski Patrol is prepared in times of emergency.

For back country skiers and outdoor enthusiasts who will venture into the snow, White suggests finding the proper gear. He recommends bringing along a probe, light-weight shovel and a transceiver.

The Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center &

currently closed due to lack of enough staff &

hosts free avalanche information sessions in November and through the winter months that gives outdoor enthusiasts the tools to identify, and what to do in the case of, an avalanche.

For more information on how to prepare for avalanches and state and national statistics, go online at /advisory.html or click key word "safety" at /.

Share This Story