The Scary Science Of Sliding Snow

The Scary Science Of Sliding Snow

Avalanche Basics

  • Avalanches occur when the crystalline bonds between snow crystals break and gravity overcomes friction.
  • Avalanches are categorized on a scale of one to five based on size and destructive potential.
  • The snowpack is made up of layers that change over time due to weather conditions.
  • Avalanches are common after storms due to the extra weight of the snow.
  • Strong winds can increase the risk of avalanches by creating dense, cohesive layers of snow called wind slabs.
  • Cornices, which are formed when the wind blows snow over the top of a ridge, can weigh many tons and trigger massive slab avalanches when they fall.

Types of Avalanches

  • There are two main types of avalanches: slab and loose.
  • Loose avalanches are characterized by loose snow that fans out after being triggered.
  • Slab avalanches involve a cohesive layer of snow that breaks away in large chunks.
  • Slab avalanches are more prevalent on slopes between 34 and 45 degrees.
  • Slab avalanches can be triggered remotely from a distance.

Avalanche Safety

  • Avalanche beacons are transceivers that send and receive electromagnetic waves, helping locate buried skiers.
  • Avalanche airbags increase buoyancy and create air pockets, improving survival chances.
  • Checking the avalanche forecast and making informed decisions is crucial for safety.
  • Three essential items for backcountry skiing are a beacon, a probe, and a shovel.
  • Deaths from avalanches do occasionally occur in bounds at resorts, but they are very rare. Most avalanche injuries and deaths occur in the backcountry.
  • Avalanches mostly affect backcountry skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers.


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