While most of us are looking forward to snow powdering not only the mountain tops, but also grey, bleak roads and buildings, the white splendor claims its tribute from unlucky winter sportsmen. Avalanches. Slab avalanches, wet snow avalanches, powder snow avalanches. Powdered snow can form an aerosol, which can cause death by inhaling it. Wet snow avalanches, although rather slow, can carry away boulders and trees, are a destructive weapon against everything that gets in its way. However, slab avalanches account for the majority of fatalities. One can get easily overwhelmed by conditions and triggers, which determine type, extent and occurrence of an avalanche. The more important is to find easy strategies to deal with avalanches. This is Bjørn Michaelsen’s mission. “We try to prevent such incidents”. The geographer wants to raise awareness, that’s why there’s been held a “Skredseminar” in Tromsø recently, which was hosted by the Center for Avalanche Research and Education (CARE) of University of Tromsø. More than 200 people came to talk about their use of avalanche forecasts, about how they make decisions in worst-case scenarios, and shared their experience with avalanches. Since the majority of victims tend to trigger avalanches themselves, human behavior exhibited oudtdoors seems to be a good point to start with. “Make a plan that is dynamic,” advices Michaelsen, “not static.” Picture a skier, who is about to face a wall of snow coming towards him, saying: “What I need now is a dynamic plan!”
During his talk, Michaelsen often sticked to such abstract terms and possible situations, but what he actually meant was to be alert when the weather changes, always check avalanche forecasts if you are about to go the mountains, and plan thoroughly in order to minimize risks. If one mountain has difficult conditions, “a dynamic plan would be to find another safe one!” As a mountain guide, Michaelsen knows the ropes and has a strategy of avoiding irrational decisions, such as to assign another member of the group to be ‘’the devil’s advocate”, namely to question every decision begin made. “First, check the avalanche warning, second, make a plan. Not the other way around!” Preaching common sense might appear superfluous, but considering that there are just a few things you can do to increase chance of survival during an avalanche, precaution is always essential.
Text: Jahn Nitschke