Slide season

2014-01-08 17_35_50-SLF _ Avalanche bulletinsIt’s been a grim start of the winter here in Switzerland – at least avalanche-wise. 12 fatalities so far, and it’s not even mid-january (the previous season claimed 22 lives in Switzerland).

The reason for the unusually high number of avalanche accidents is a weak layer buried in the snow. This layer can be found pretty much all across Switzerland, but it’s weaker in the southeast and southwest of Switzerland than in the central regions (according to what I’ve read).

There have been so many articles and blogs written about the situation that I’ve lost count. There’s advice to get an avalanche airbag, and some are just urging skiers/snowboarders to simply not go off the groomed piste.

In my opinion, these are far to simplified solutions to a very complex problem. Why do people venture into dangerous terrain when the danger level is 4? I think it’s another example of what I’d like to call  the “I’ve been here before”-problem. The human brain is simply incapable of believing something it has not experienced. Which means that the better you know a certain mountain or line, the more deadly it is, as your brain will have a harder time understanding the potential danger.

Weather-wise, these are strange times. We talk about “global weirding” as opposed to “global warming”. The weather is becoming more violent, freezing levels fluctuate more, winds grow stronger. We see a lot of “I’ve never seen an avalanche here before” situations.

In this respect, I’m at an advantage as I don’t know the Swiss mountains that well yet. I study maps and the avalanche report. I stay well within the margins. I am humbled by these giants. The folks who grew up here and have skied these mountains for ages – maybe not so much.

So, I urge you to throw your outdated rule book out the window and look at the mountains with new eyes. Times they are a-changing, and we need to change our behavior accordingly.

Do not, however, stay indoor. Fun can still be had on mellower slopes. Staying well below the treeline will offer protection from some types of avalanches. It is conditions like these that force us to learn how to adapt to the ever-changing snow conditions, and that can be a good thing. Spend your money on avalanche training instead of new equipment this season. Read maps and snow reports. Go with people you trust and who have the same risk profile as you do.


Leave a Reply