Last week was a very bad week in the Alps. People have been killed by avalanches in Courmayeur, Risoul and Valfréjus. An avalanche even hit a slope in Tignes, fortunately nobody got hurt. Avalanches claimed the lifes of 11 people last week only...
All the avalanche activity was caused by a huge storm cycle that's already dominating the weather in the Alps for ten days. The wind came from all directions and was really strong from time to time, it snowed heavily and the temperature was going up and down. The combination of wind, lots of fresh snow (sometimes up to 120 cm in just a few days) and fluctuating temperatures caused a critical avalanche situation. It's been hard for the new layers to bond with the old snow cover and the pressure of a single skier or snowboarder may be enough to cause a massive avalanche as the images above from an avalanche in Valfréjus show you.
53 people were killed by avalanches so far this winter. It started very early with avalanches during autumn that mainly claimed the lives of alpinists. Last week, avalanches killed mainly skiers and snowboarders that triggered their own avalanche. Check out the map below where all the avalanches came down.
On average, around 100 people are killed by avalanches during the winter season. Of course it's a bit more or less every winter, but in general it is a number that's been pretty stable for the last 20 years. Which in itself is remarkable. People ride off-piste more than ever and the gear that allows you to enjoy deep powder is better than ever. So we ride more off-piste, but the number of fatal accidents caused by avalanches decreases. I have no idea why. Do you have an explanation?
40 deadly avalanches came down so far. The vast majority of these avalanches came down on a face with a north aspect above 2000 meters. The facts emphasize the lethal sector marked by the experts. Slopes between NNW and NE above 2000 meters are dangerous, but often have the best quality of snow, because the sun hasn't got that much influence on it. What a pity.
The data show some pretty interesting things:
A final saliency is the large number of freeriders in the figures. 24 victims, that's 46% of the victims not too far away from the slopes. That is quite a lot. Especially when you consider that winter only actually started in January and we only have about 10 weeks of snow in the Alps. That's an average of 2.4 freerider and 1.9 ski tourer loosing their life in the Alps every week.
Lots of people are still riding alone or without the right gear (avalanche beacon, shovel, probe). These are indications that those riders are short of knowledge. And knowledge is key. With applying the right knowlegde you can reduce the risk to the level of driving a car for one hour. If you don't have the right knowledge, than you're basically playing a game of Russian Roulette.
Want access to the most comprehensive online backcountry snow safety courses for skiers and snowboarders? Use code "ALTENMARKT1617", valid until the end of March, to get access for only 9€ (Reg: 29€). Go to Mountain Academy and start now!