By now we have all become familiar with the phrase “snow avalanche.” An avalanche can occur anytime in the mountains, day or night, and this avalanche can be destructive to skiers and snowboarders. Last year’s outbreak in the North and West Mountain ranges led to the deaths of numerous mountain enthusiasts and caused major damage. Although our smaller mountain region survived this, there are still areas where there is still snow on the ground. Mt. Hood has been frozen in place since November, bringing the risk of avalanches in the area to the highest level in years. Although the recent record cold in the East should provide an environment of stability for snowfall, ice cores show snow overcapacity in portions of the mountain. When this happens in places where the snowpack is really old, the avalanche-prone areas will be exposed, with the potential for avalanches to occur. Without knowing which snowpack areas are highest in avalanche risk, the only way to prevent avalanches is to be observant and vigilant.
The terrain and terrain conditions may appear normal, but conditions can be determined using a number of factors including temperature, cloud cover, and soil moisture. Try to gain a lay of the land and bring two-way communication to listen for hints of conditions that could lead to an avalanche threat. Look at roads, trails, peaks, and other barriers, or try to find markers from avalanches or other human-triggered events that indicate risk. The terrain itself can change at varying rates of speed, speed of wind, and height of wind. You can find out what to expect in different conditions through working with experienced local forecasters.
Here are four ways to stay safe on a powder day:
1. Be alert to the upcoming avalanche warning period. It could occur just before or just after a pass such as the super blue ribbon pass or anything that you are planning to spend time in. It’s always helpful to know the current risks for which areas you will be skiing. It’s better to err on the safe side of caution.
2. Plan ahead. The most common problems in ski areas are avalanches and other snowcraft issues that can occur with ramps and grab bars, for example. Bring out the snowmobile first, and if it is too dangerous, bring out skis or snowboard. If you plan to use the snowmobile, check that you don’t have a unsecured or locked rider strap or hand brake. Use your snowmobile to move uphill quickly.
3. Know where the routes are for you that will get you to your goal faster, in case an avalanche does occur. If it looks too difficult or you aren’t comfortable, then ski down the difficult path first and then turn back for the same area.
4. Don’t be “caught off guard.” Usually avalanches are triggered by moving objects or weak areas of snow. Be aware of the conditions and remember: Throw, Don’t React.