With the start of the meteorological autumn the countdown to winter 15-16 has started. It's time to have a look at last winter. A dramatic winter in which as many as 137 people died (source) due to avalanches. An increase of 40% compared to the long-year average. The figures we have collected are subject to change and could still be adjusted in the coming weeks, but despite that, it's possible to highlight some striking numbers.
At least 14% of the avalanche victims was alone (as in: not riding with other skiers or snowboarders)
At least 16% of the avalanche victims didn't carry an avalanche beacon
In at least four fatalities an inflated airbag couldn't prevent the rider from getting buried, with deadly consequences
Notable are the points 1 and 2. For at least 30% (more than 40 victims) rescue will be pretty difficult in case of accident. When someone in your group is completely buried by an avalanche, you have around 15 to 18 minutes to free the victim. Within this timeframe there's still an 'acceptable' survival rate. After 18 minutes the survival rate decreases rapidly. Without other members in your group, or without an avalanche beacon that transmit a signal, it's really hard, if not impossible to be rescued within 18 minutes. It's possible that this 30% is even higher, because not all the details of every accident are known.
The cases with an airbag are interesting as well. In all four cases, the victims were caught in a so-called terrain trap where the snow could accumulate and where an avalanche airbag does not help. A good line choice in which you avoid terrain traps as much as possible is pretty important. That the accidents occurred in steep terrain is not quite surprising. Steep slopes are very attractive to ride and it remains difficult to say no. Perhaps it would help if riders are better able to estimate the angle correctly, but if one then says 'no' more often to a slope is a tricky question.
Over 60% of the victims was touring
The most important lessons for now are:
Never go out alone
Make sure everyone in your group has an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe