Riding in the backcountry? Do you already include these 14 points in your decision?


By meteomorris on 13 November 2018 · 0

About 110 people die in the Alps as a result of avalanches every year. In 90% of the cases the avalanche was caused by themselves or other people in the area. The good news is that you can prevent something that you cause yourself. On the picture below you see 14 points that every freerider should consider before making a decision. Not only to be safer in the mountains, but also to prevent getting wet feet in a creek and especially to ride more powder. With the right knowledge and expertise you can always ride powder somewhere.

Do you already have some knowledge of weather, snow, avalanches and the mountains? Then write the points 1 to 14 on a blank piece of paper, check the picture below and write down for yourself what they could mean. Then just scroll down and check whether it is slightly correct.

1. Wind

"Wind is the builder of avalanches". Wind transports large amounts of snow and because wind destroys and reduces snowflakes while moving, it's the cause of so-called 'wind-drifted snow' (Triebschnee in German). Wind is not good. If the wind is strong or has been strong over the past few days, there is an increased risk avalanche risk.

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2. Corniche

Large corniches are a clear indication the wind was strong. A corniche is always away from the wind and gives you an idea of the prevailing wind direction. Paradoxically, the first fracture rarely arises directly on or just behind the corniche. There is so much snow here that the chance that you hit a weak layer is very small. It is just a few to tens of meters below it where it becomes dangerous, because the snow cover there is usually slightly thinner and you hit the weak layer more easily. Besides corniches you can also keep an eye on snow dunes, comet stripes and sastrugi. These also tell you a lot about the strength and the direction of the wind.

3. Rocky faces

Wind stills arise in the vicinity of rocky faces due to the ruggedness of the terrain. You will always find wind-drifted snow near rocky faces (also smaller rocky faces) and especially below rocky faces. And that means an increased avalanche risk. Descend above a rocky face? An avalanche can throw you off with all its consequences. Take wind-drifted snow and terrain traps into account!

4. Loose snow avalanche (or cone avalanche)

A loose snow avalanche starts at one point and then takes the form of a cone. A snowflake decides to roll down (often triggerd by your skis or snowboard) and a chain reaction takes place. A loose snow avalanche is the ultimate example of the snowball effect. The loose snow avalanche is a variant that is generally not as dangerous for freeriders, but should not be underestimated. The biggest danger of loose snow avalanches is that you get out of balance and possibly slide off a cliff that's too big to huck.

5. The sun

The direct radiation of the sun ensures that the snow cover can set itself after a period of time, which makes the snow cover stronger. But the sun does not reach every part of the mountain. Especially in the middle of winter the sun is so low that it does not shine directly on many faces. Where the sun can not reach the mountain it remains cold and weak layers in the snow cover can stick around for months. On the other hand, the sun can provide a crusty layer that can serve as a sliding layer after new snowfall.

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6. Surface hoar

Surface hoar doesn't fall down from the sky, but is created on the snow cover itself and consists of large crystals, often in the form of feathers, wedges or some kind of icy flakes. Surface hoar is therefore not a form of precipitation, but rather a consequence of a cloudless sky during the night. Surface hoar itself is not dangerous, just like hail and Graupel, when it forms the top layer. It immediately becomes dangerous when a new layer of fresh snow falls on top of it. The layer with surface hoar is no longer visible. Layers with surface hoar are extremely weak and are a typical sliding layer for an avalanche. The biggest problem with a thick layer of snowed in surface hoar is that it can take weeks and sometimes months before the situation is stabilized.

7. Riding tactics

Before you ride down, it is good to determine the safe zones on the face. Safe zones are useful so that you can keep an eye on each other. A good riding tactic prevents you (and the whole group) from getting into trouble.

8. Slope angle

The ideal slope angle at which avalanches come down is 38 degrees steep. In any case, most avalanches take place on slopes between 35 and 45 degrees steep. And those slopes are perfect to ride. These are the types of slopes in which we cause the deadly avalanches ourselves in 90% of the cases.

9. Slab avalanches

Small slab avalanches can cause the snow cover to destabilize even more. Small cracks can continue to move invisibly and trigger large(r) slab avalanches.

10. Terrain traps

Terrain traps, or the 'traps' plotted by the terrain are those places on the mountain where you 'fall into the trap'. If you come in an avalanche and it comes across a terrain trap or when an avalanche ends up in such a terrain trap, then the chance of survival is considerably lower because the snow piles up high.

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11. Avalanche gullies

Closed forests in which white channels flow down. These openings in the forest are a direct danger to you. These paths are not 'gladed' so that you can go skiing or boarding. These are the paths of spontaneous avalanches that descend every now and then. Small, young, widespread trees, especially those with branches that only grow downhill, are a typical sign that avalanches are regularly coming down here.

12. Save your buddies after an avalanche? Practice, practice, practice.

Avalanches that end up on flat sections are made of hard chunks make it difficult to carry out a rescue. It's simple: practice, practice, practice!

13. Convex slope

The snow cover is often not so coherent on a convex slope, also called a rollover. The combination of gravity - to pull the snow down - in combination with the curvature of the slope ensures that we regularly see avalanches at the point where the convex is the strongest.

14. Concave slope

A concave in a slope is similar to the inside of a scale. When traversing a concave slope, the chances are greatest that the slope above you breaks through the weight and the avalanche comes down from above.


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