This past ski season saw record-breaking snowfall in several regions around the world, and with more snow comes a higher risk for avalanches. The immense weight built up from weeks of snow had led a number of resorts to close down entirely for the safety of their visitors and staff members. While they can be entirely unpredictable, avid skiers and snowboarders alike should know understand warning signs of an impending avalanche.
First, one should be familiar with the different danger levels:
1 – Low risk level
- A danger rating of 1 generally means there are few unstable slabs in the snow, which is well packed and not easily moved
2 – Moderate risk level
- Moveable or unstable slabs are possible on a few steeper slopes around the mountain
3 – Considerable risk level
- Moveable or unstable slabs are likely on a fair amount of steep slopes
4 – High risk level
- Unstable slabs are very likely on most slopes around the mountain
5 – Very high risk level
- Unstable slabs make up most of the mountain with a very weak bond throughout the snowpack
Ski resorts and mountain operators will notify visitors of these conditions beforehand, but it is always good practice to check the forecast before planning your trip. Local ski areas will have actual avalanche forecasts giving you such information as the altitude and areas of the slopes that are at the greatest risk.
For the less-experienced, it would be wise to travel alongside more advanced skiers and snowboarders who are familiar with all types of conditions in the event of an avalanche being possible. That being said, travel with at least three people total for safety reasons. Should your group find themselves in the middle of an avalanche and one person is to become trapped, you will then have one person able to leave and get help, with another staying back to ensure the safety of the trapped individual.
Make sure to carry the necessary equipment when exploring offcourse. An avalanche transceiver, probe, and shovel should all be included in your backpack. Train with these pieces of gear as well so that you know how to use them when the time comes to do so. Once you are packed and ready to go, plan your routes. Improvisation can be extremely dangerous when it comes to skiing or hiking. Use maps or local guide books to give yourself a sense of where you are, where you want to go, and areas to avoid.