Excellent information from the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team and Tia Rancourt, North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District – With all the recent snowfall we’ve been experiencing and more on the way, it’s a good reminder to be aware of avalanche potential and educate ourselves on proactive steps to take before going outside to recreate – whether skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing or hiking.
Proactive steps that you can take before going out include:
- Check Sierra Avalanche Center’s recorded avalanche advisory 530-587-3558, ext. 258.
- Visit http://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/[sierraavalanchecenter.org] to learn more details about avalanche safety and training classes that are available. Also, most local sports shops offer free classes and training throughout the winter.
- Recognize warning signs:
- Such as recent avalanches (if there are new avalanches, it’s likely that more are possible in that area).
- Signs of unstable snow as you travel (cracking or collapsing snowpack, whumpfing sounds, hollow drum-like sounds on hard snow).
- Heavy snowfall or rain in the past 24 hours (significant snowfall or rain can make the snowpack unstable; avalanches are often triggered the first clear day after a storm; because it’s sunny doesn’t mean it’s safe.
- Windblown snow (loads leeward slopes, even when it’s not snowing out).
- Significant warming or rapidly increasing temperatures (warm temps and gravity can cause the snow to creep downhill and become less stable).
- Persistent weak layers (can be triggered weeks after a storm, they can be difficult to identify so check the Avalanche Advisory for your area).
- Identify avalanche terrain:
- Slope angle (avalanches are possible on any slope steeper than 30 degrees, and occur most frequently on slopes 35 – 50 degrees).
- Terrain traps (anything that increases the consequences of being caught in a slide such as cliffs, trees and rocks).
- Common trigger points (under certain conditions avalanches may be triggered from flatter areas in the runout zone or along ridge crests.
- Aspect (which way does the slope face in relation to sun, wind?)
- Safe travel protocol:
- Back country travelers should carry proper gear such as a transceiver, probe, and shovel.
- Always carry your gear on your body with your transceiver turned on.
- Consider riding with an inflatable pack to increase your chances of staying on top of an avalanche.
- Practice with your gear regularly. Seconds count and your gear only works when you can use it confidently and efficiently in bad conditions.
- Carry the gear and supplies you need to survive an injury or a long evacuation in winter conditions.
- Be able to communicate with your partners and rescuers.
- Remember that your gear helps you have a safer and more fun day – it does not guarantee your safety.
- Never expose more than one person to avalanche danger at a time (one on a slope at a time).
- Stay alert to changing snow stability due to changes in aspect, elevation, or weather factors (heavy precipitation, wind or warming).
- Communicate within your group, have options.
- Be prepared to do a rescue.
For more information on avalanche safety, visit http://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/[sierraavalanchecenter.org].
Remember, the best tip is to “Know Before You Go”, the avalanche danger rating is only a starting point. You control your own risk by choosing where, when and how you travel.