July 12, 2024


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Springtime Ski Vacation Safety Tips: Understanding an Avalanche

2 min read
Springtime Ski Vacation Safety Tips: Understanding an Avalanche

It’s spring time once again but nothing can stop you from going on a ski vacation. However, the danger of getting caught in an avalanche is eminent during this season. So here are some facts you need to know to fully understanding an avalanche.

An avalanche or a “snowslide” is any amount of snow sliding down a mountainside. It can be compared to a landslide, but only with snow instead of earth. It gains more speed and power as it comes nearer to the bottom of the slope making even the smallest of the snowslides to be very dangerous.

There are two types of an avalanche. The first one is known as a surface avalanche. It occurs when a layer of snow with different properties slides over another layer of snow. The second one is called a full-depth avalanche that occurs when an entire snow cover, from the earth to the surface, slides over the ground.

Why does it occur? The snow packed down on the surface cannot support itself with all the weight. When other factors are introduced, such as tremors from a person’s steps, it loosens the snow and an avalanche occurs. Other factors include major temperature change, rapid wind speed and man-made influences.

Spring conditions may be the time of the year when there are frequent avalanches but once a regular cycle of freezing and melting sets in, predicting its stability is easier compared to cold winter months.

Freezing at the night and melting during the day is a classic springtime process. During the freezing phase, the snowpack is at its strongest. It turns water into ice when the temperature goes below freezing point creating a ‘skeleton’ that holds the snowpack together. Then, as the sun rises (warming east facing slopes first), melting phase occurs, melting the ice skeleton that holds the snowpack together.

In freezing and melting conditions, the snowpack is at its strongest during the freeze phase and at its weakest during the melt phase. In between these phases, ski conditions are moderately safe, for as long as people haven’t been on that area too late the day before.

The question now is: How should you avoid getting caught in an avalanche during your ski trip? The most common way to evade one is to recognize where one it is most likely to occur. If you understand when there is a great chance of for an avalanche, you are less likely to suffer from it. The key is to know how the path of an avalanche appears. Most of its paths are obvious, appearing as an open slope, bowl or gully shape. Other common signs are bent or damaged trees.

It is imperative to understand the possible dangers you might encounter during your ski vacation. An avalanche is no ordinary phenomenon so you must be prepared all the time.

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