Avalanche Risk and Safety Awareness

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Avalanche Risk and Safety Awareness

(Part One) Located at the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) promotes research in the Earth’s cryosphere – the portions of our planet where water exists in solid form. This includes lake ice, river ice, sea ice, ice caps, ice sheets, permafrost, glaciers and snow cover, with the latter being of particular interest to snow sport enthusiasts. The NSIDC has grown from its original status as an analog archive and information center tasked with archiving data from the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year, to the technologically sophisticated data management and scientific research center it is today, with the ability to manage terabytes of data from NASA’s Earth Observing system satellite program, while at the same time gleaning information from the smallest text file relating to the cryosphere.

The NSIDC is intensely interested in areas where ice and snow may impact human populations, and special attention is paid to the dangers of avalanches, with the view to training and preparing people to deal with potentially life-threatening situations. The Colorado Avalanche Center notes that 89 percent of victims are between the ages of 20 and 29, with up to 89 percent being men. The fact that 75 percent of victims are experienced backcountry skiers should come as no surprise, considering the increased risk factor of skiing un-groomed trails. The increase in avalanche fatalities in recent years is attributed primarily to the increase in snow and mountain oriented recreation. Skiing, snowboarding and heli-skiing, as well as hiking and mountaineering in snow covered mountains, attract millions of adventurers every year. To accommodate all the adventure seekers, more roads, towns and resorts are being built in areas prone to naturally released avalanches. The increased activity in the mountains may also result in an increase in avalanches.

Avalanches are known to occur throughout the year, but there are certain times of the year where avalanche activity increases. In the northern hemisphere, the highest number of avalanche fatalities occurs from December through March when snowfall is highest, and when ski areas are at their busiest. May and June records reveal that avalanche incidents increase as summer draws near and snow begins to thaw, or unexpected snowfalls catch recreational skiers by surprise.

Although avalanches are a very real safety issue, being aware of what to look out for may help you avoid this danger, and if you should get caught in an avalanche, knowing what to do can quite literally be a life-saver, for you and your companions. More about this in the next article.

Avalanche Risk Identification and Safety Tips

(Part Two) Taking note of snow condition reports and recognizing warning signs can go a long way to avoiding being caught in an avalanche. Significant amounts of rain or snowfall can cause the snowpack to become unstable, with avalanches frequently happening on the first sunny day following a storm. Warmer temperatures can result in less stable snowpack as the snow moves down, pulled by gravity. Experts advise snow skiers to listen to the snow, particularly when enjoying a back-country snow sport adventure. Cracking or ‘whumpfing’ sounds are a warning of unstable snowpack, as are hollow bass-drum sounds when traveling over hard snow.

Avalanches most often occur on slopes between 35 and 50 degrees, but are a possibility on any slope steeper than 30 degrees. Skiers should be aware though, that even if the area they are skiing is less than 30 degrees, if there are steeper slopes higher up, there is still the possibility of an avalanche. Common trigger points are along ridge crests where wind-driven snow has collected, near rocky outcrops in the snowpack and areas where there is mid-slope steepening. Cornices in the snow indicate the prevailing direction of the wind and could serve as a sign that the slope below consists of wind-loaded snow. Whether the slope faces the sun or is in the shade is also significant, and skiers should make use of a compass to determine the direction the slope is facing. Some ski areas are known as avalanche zones and even if there are no outward signs, there may be persistent weak layers, and skiers should consult the local avalanche advisory authorities for information relevant to the area.

In the interests of safety, never ski alone and ensure that all members of the group watch out for one another. Preferably ski one one the slope at a time, but if this is not possible, keep well spread out and never descend directly above your ski partner. Bear in mind that an avalanche beacon is invaluable in search and rescue operations.

If an avalanche is heading your way try to ski to the side of the sliding snow, and when it reaches you discard your skis and poles. Grab onto the downhill side of trees if you have the opportunity to do so, or roll onto your back with your feet facing downhill. When you feel the avalanche slowing, try to make airspace around your mouth. If you are completely buried, you will have to rely on rescuers to find you, so try to remain calm until they do.

If your partner is caught in an avalanche there will be no time to go for help, so while watching the victim to establish a last seen point, try to alert others to the emergency situation. While your first instinct may be to rush to your partner’s aid, it’s important to determine whether you will be safe to do so. Look for discarded equipment and/or clothing indicating a possible location. If the victim is wearing a beacon, conduct a beacon search, probing before digging. If there is no beacon to track, probe around the areas where surface clues were found, as well as in possible catchment areas. Keep looking until you find the victim, whose life is in your hands.

Avalanche and first aid training should be a top priority for all back-country skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, hikers, mountaineers and any other adventurers who may be heading into snow-laden territory. Being prepared for emergencies will allow snowsport enthusiasts to enjoy their chosen activity with greater peace of mind.

Ins and Outs of Snowskates

A Snowskate can be described as a combination of a snowboard and a skateboard. It allows snowskaters to perform tricks usually done by skateboarders on hard surfaces. The sport of snowskating has grown in popularity. There are a few different snowskates on the market that snowskaters can choose from, made by leading brands in the winter sport industry.

The history of snowskates actually dates back to around the 1960s, with the creation of the Snurfer. Many consider this to be the first snowskate, as it had no bindings attached to it. During the 1970s, however, the term snowskate was coined by a board that was being sold in sporting equipment stores and even in toystores, and resembled what is known today as the bideck snowskate. It was a very primitive version that featured attachments that looked like skis in its sides, allowing the skateboarders to move over the snow. Over the years, the designs improved and changed to produce the modern products that are seen today.

There are four types of snowskates to choose from today, namely the bideck, the powderskate, the single deck and the 4×4. As snowskates have no bindings and look like a form of skateboard, they are all fitted with non slip surface to allow riders to maneuver their boards.

There are two types of bideck boards, namely a single blade and multiple blades. This means that the snowskater would stand on the top deck of the board, while the lower deck, fitted with blades or a blade, is in contact with the snow. It is believed that Steve Frink was the original designer of this board in 1994. Prototypes were released in 2001, and avid bideck snowskaters will use the shorter version to perform tricks and the longer one for snowskating in the mountains.

As its name suggests, the powderskate is used in deep powder conditions and come in either a bideck version or single. They are designed with a deck and broad stub, and when in use feels similar to surfing.

The single deck is generally constructed from either solid plastic, or a combination of plastic and laminated wood, and has grooves cut into the underside of the board. This board is most popular for use in terrain and snowskate parks. The first single deck was released in 1998, which led to various snowskate parks opening to accommodate the rapidly growing numbers of snowskaters.

The 4×4 snowskate is a very rare snowskate that most resembles the feel of a skateboard. Where each of a skateboard’s four wheels would be, there is a small ski. Snowskates, also referred to as snowdecks, provide a lot of fun and adventure. It is most definitely a recommended discipline for winter sport enthusiasts to try.

Skiing in Tasmania

Tasmania lies to the south of mainland Australia, and is an island that is known for its impressive mountain ranges, of which eight stand higher than 1 500 meters above sea level. The peak that overshadows the other mountains is Mount Ossa, which stands proudly at 1 614 meters. Together with Victoria and New South Wales, Tasmania is amongst the most popular skiing destinations in Australia. The breathtaking Tasmanian Wilderness provides the ideal location for cross country skiing, while other resorts offer numerous winter sport activities.

June to October are the most favorable months for skiing in Tasmania. Mount Mawson and Ben Lomond are the two main resorts on the island. Ben Lomond is located just outside of Launceston. Situated in the Ben Lomond National Park, skiers will not only enjoy exciting skiing conditions but the scenery will be memorable too. The village is nestled in the mountains at an elevation of 1 460 meters, with its mountain peak being at 1 570 meters. The resort is popular for Alpine skiing, and in 1929 the Northern Tasmanian Alpine Club was established here. Starting off as a small chalet, it soon developed into a successful resort that included visitor facilities, accommodation and ski lifts. A team to oversee the Skifield Development Area was founded in 1995, and the Department of Parks and Wildlife announced in 2010 that a project was underway to introduce snowmaking machines to the ski area and to develop a snowboard park.

Other downhill ski operations also exist in Tasmania, such as those at Mount Mawson, which is situated in the Mount Field National Park. There are two rope tows available for intermediate skiers and one rope tow for more experienced skiers, as it features steep terrain and limited accommodation is available at this resort facility.

When snowfall allows it, cross country skiing and Alpine skiing is available at Cradle Mountain, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Wilderness Area. In total, there are twenty-eight mountains in Tasmania and most of them are over 1 220 meters. So, for cross country skiing and backcountry locations, skiers are recommended to visit Ben Lomond National Park, Mount Field National Park and Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park, with Mount Mawson and Ben Lomond offering picturesque downhill ski resorts.

Helmet Safety on the Slopes

The news of Natasha Richardson’s death, daughter to famous Vanessa Redgrave and wife to Liam Neeson, shocked the world. What was to be an exciting and relaxing skiing adventure, turned to tragedy after a fall in which she suffered fatal head injuries. Another high profile incident occurred when a mother collided with a German politician on the slopes in Austria. She suffered a fatal brain injury while the politician, who was wearing a helmet, survived the incident. Enough proof to show that helmets are a necessity.

Researchers believe that skiing helmets should be promoted more aggressively and be made available to the public at resorts. Many believe that they should be included in skiing packages and be on the shelves of equipment rental stores. There are those who believe that ski helmets only cause a false sense of security. However, it has been seen that more advanced and skilled skiers are making use of helmets more frequently. This is not only because they take on more dangerous terrain than amateur skiers but because they have seen and experienced the risk of the sport. Safety is essential in any sport, and it should be the same with skiing.

Researchers have been conducting studies in regard to skiing helmets, and it was found that helmets can reduce a head injury by at least thirty-five percent. With children under the age of thirteen, helmets were able to reduce injury by fifty-nine percent. The study also showed that with injuries reported, up to nineteen percent were head injuries, and that seventy-four percent of head injuries were caused by skiers’ heads hitting the snow, thirteen percent were because of hitting solid objects such as trees and the remaining ten percent was caused by collisions.

Researchers, such as Gerhard Ruedl from the University of Innsbruck (Austria), know that convincing skiers who have been participating the sport for years that helmets are essential will take some time, as most believe only children should wear them. But it is hoped that by educating the skiing public regarding the risks and damage that can be caused to the brain, more skiers will begin to embrace wearing helmets, recognizing that they are a vital safety measure and small price to pay if they can reduce injuries and save lives.

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