Already 38 victims due to avalanches in the Alps this season


By meteomorris on 16 February 2016 · 0

The first snow of the season came down on January the 3rd, 2016. It's mid-February and there are already 38 victims due to avalanches... Okay, ten of them were mountaineers who passed away in the high alpine in Autumn, but there still remain 28 victims. And only in about six weeks time. That is slightly less than five fatalities a week. And the peak season in the Alps only just begun. You'll find an overview of the locations where these deadly avalanches came down below. If you want to know more details you can check out this document. Last season there were about 75 fatalities due to avalanches mid-February.

Some highlights

If we have a look at the fatalities a couple of things are worth mentioning:

  • Nine victims had an avalanche airbag and also pulled the trigger
  • At least 13 victims were not wearing an avalanche transceiver
  • At least three victims were riding alone
  • Three victims were teenagers
  • Four fatalities on closed slopes

Looking at the location of the avalanches therefore depends on a number of issues:

  • All avalanches came down between west over north to south. No avalanche came down on a slope with a southern exposition
  • All avalanches took place above 1950 meters altitude (almost always above the treeline)
  • As we know so far all the victims were riding faces steeper than recommended according to the conventional decision methods

Avalanches are our biggest enemy
Avalanches are our biggest enemy

It's a strange winter

Many of the avalanches have their origins in the weak layer with sugar snow that came down late November. Check out this article. Two skiers were killed by avalanches on closed slopes. And at least three avalanches came down at ended up on open slopes, but fortunately there were no fatalities, only injuries.

Nine avalanche victims triggered their avalanche airbag. An avalanche airbag is no guarantee you won't be buried by an avalanche. One victim lost his backpack in the avalanche, a second victim was pushed against a tree by the avalanche (the transition from alpine to the trees) and the other victims ended up (with their airbag) in a so-called terrain trap. This is a place where the avalanche stops and the snow is forced to accumulate. Terrain traps are therefore a major concern in the route planning.

Warning: extremely dangerous above the treeline

The avalanche danger remains tricky. Especially since you can find that nasty old snow layer above 2200 meters in a lot of places in the Alps. It can be found pretty deep in the snowpack, but the recent wind transported so much snow that it might become a problem again. Check out this massive avalanche for example. Wind also causes the dangerous wind-eroded snow and the shifting temperatures cause tensions in the snow cover. Unfortunately, the danger is hard to see with the naked eye. No matter how big the stoke is, decision methods and systematic filtering of the risks are the only ways to take calculated decisions. Always check the local avalanche forecast and adapt your plans to it. Avalanche beacon, shovel and probe are a MUST. If you don't have any knowledge, start working on it or go out with a mountain guide.


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