Avalanches are awesome.
The power and majesty of massive snow slides — which have been known to hit 80 mph in five seconds — can leave a witness slack-jawed with wonder.
But they are dangerous beasts and best viewed from afar.
However, for those venturing beyond the friendly confines of their local ski hill, avalanches are a clear and present danger, and it behooves any back-country skier or snowboarder (or snowshoer or snowmobiler, for that matter) to be constantly on the alert.
You should have the basic knowledge of how and why avalanches occur — for instance, 90 percent of accidents are caused by the victim or someone in the victim’s party — and possess the basic tools (beacon, probe, shovel) to help minimize the damage should one strike.
Learn from the pros
You could get such information from the internet or a publication, but it’s best to get first-hand and hands-on advice from the pros.
And there are several such gatherings every fall, usually all-day seminars on the risks and dangers of back-country winter travel and how to avoid being another fatal statistic.
The following are among the best:
- Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Oct. 5, Breckenridge Riverwalk Center, Breckenridge, Colo.
- California Avalanche Workshop, Oct. 20, North Tahoe Event Center, Kings Beach, Calif.
- Wyoming Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Oct. 27, Center for the Arts, Jackson, Wyo.
- Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Oct. 27, Mountain America Expo Center, Sandy, Utah.
- Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Oct. 27, The Mountaineers, Seattle.
- Northern Rockies Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Nov. 3, O’Shaughnessy Cultural Arts Center, Whitefish, Mont.
- Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Nov. 3, Fryeburg Academy, Fryeburg, Maine.
- Bend Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Nov. 10, Central Oregon Community College, Bend, Ore.
- Montana Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Nov. 26, Montana State University campus, Bozeman, Mont.
Also, the American Institute for Avalanche research and Education is conducting two-hour evening sessions at selected REI stores across the Pacific Northwest from Oct. 30-Dec. 17, and Alibi Ale Works in Truckee, Calif., is hosting an evening Beacons and Beers event on Nov. 14.
Once you’ve learned how to safely conduct yourself in avalanche country, check out these Web sites to get weather and avalanche-danger forecasts:
- The Sierra Avalanche Center (sierraavalanchecenter.org) provides data for the Sierra from just north of Truckee to south of Mammoth.
- The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (avalanche.state.co.us) has updates for all ranges in the Centennial State.
- The mountains of western Wyoming are under the watch of jholeavalanche.org and the Wasatch and Uintas of Utah are the responsibility of Utah Avalanche Center (utahavalanchecenter.org).
- Montana has three different agencies conducting potential avalanche hazards: mtavalanche.com for the south central part of the state, missoulaavalanche.org for the southwest portion and flatheadavalanche.org for the north.
- The mountains of Idaho are watched over by idahopanhandleavalanche.org in the north, payetteavalanche.org in the west-central and sawtoothavalanche.com in the east-central.
- The Olympic range, the Washington Cascades and the Mt. Hood area are monitored by the Northwest Avalanche Center (nwac.us).