‘Considerable’ more dangerous than you think, avalanche expert says

December 24, 2005

It’s delicate, clean and when the sun’s out, it sparkles.

And it can kill you in a variety of ways. By its brutal coldness. Its weight. Its speed. Or its tendency to leech the last breath of oxygen from your panicking lungs.

Snow, like a James Bond villain, is often most lethal when it’s most beautiful.

That is within 48 hours of a snowstorm.

But it’s also very lethal in times like these, Mount Rainier’s lead climbing ranger Glenn Kessler told a packed Alpinees Hut Dec. 8.

“(Avalanches are more likely) when the snow experiences rapid changes in the weather, like wind, temperature, snow and rain,” he said.

In the last week, the Cascades’ snow pack has adjusted from a few weeks of consistent, cold and dry weather to a week of warmth and moisture.

This, according to the Northwest Avalanche Control’s Thursday forecast for the Mount Hood area, has produced areas of wet and weak crust below 7,000 feet, “where the possibility of mainly small, wet, loose or isolated wet slab slides is maintaining a moderate danger.”

The recent rain and wet snow, the forecast says, has lubricated bonds between snow layers.

And this “moderate” danger, says Kessler, describes the conditions in which 26 percent of all avalanche victims are killed.

“Most people (45 percent) are injured or killed when the avalanche forecast is ‘considerable,’” Kessler said.

Also, Kessler told the Alpinees, small avalanches kill more people than big ones do.

“For every one person killed in one, there’s probably four or five caught in them,” he said.

The winter of 2005-2006 is already creating the layers for an active avalanche season.

Within three days of Mount Baker ski area’s opening day, two separate avalanches had already consumed two snowboarders.

The avalanche that had buried backcountry snowboarder Matt Bowen on Nov. 5 had knocked him unconscious and had buried him five feet in the snow.

Three days later, two skiers at Mount Baker rescued a snowboarder after an avalanche had buried him under eight feet of snow for 10 minutes.

Both avalanches were soft slab slides, according to the Mt. Baker Ski Patrol.

Both victims survived.

And in both instances, the victims and rescuers were using transceivers and shovels in the backcountry.

In both cases, the victim or a person in the victim’s party triggered the avalanche.

“The typical avalanche victim is 24 to 37 years old, is advanced or is an expert,” Kessler said. “His skill has outgrown his knowledge of snow. They or a person in their party sets them off 90 percent of the time.”

Latest stories

Latest video:

Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

Log in to comment

News from our Community Partners