Snow Cracks in the Central Zone of Chile: “This is a situation that should not be overlooked”
From Avalancha Sport
One of the postcards that alarmed all lovers of the mountain were the cracks that appeared in some sectors of the central zone of Chile where users in social networks recorded this event that can cause an avalanche.
In this context and after this situation, Avalancha Sport spoke with Diego Pizarro, Mountain Risks Specialist and Instructor of snow and avalanches of the National Association of French Snow Studies (ANENA), who said that this phenomenon is not unusual at the beginnings of the season.
“My impression is very likely that this happened because there was an intense rainfall with little wind and very low temperatures during that period,” he began.
SLF’s Swiss Long-Term Statistics of Avalanche Victims. The SLF, (Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research) has been collecting data on all the avalanche accidents that happened in Switzerland since the winter 1936/37. This is an overview of their statistics:
Avalanche victims since 1936
The annual average number of fatalities over the entire period is 25 (Fig. 1).
Spatial distribution of fatal accidents during the last twenty years
More than 90% of the fatal avalanche accidents during the last twenty years occurred in uncontrolled terrain, like for example during off-piste skiing and snowboarding or during backcountry touring on ski or snowshoes. As can be seen in Figure 2, a particularly large number of accidents occurred in the cantons of Valais and Grisons.
But what is the reason of this clustering?
Is the clustering of accidents a consequence of a high touring frequency in these regions, or are there other reasons for a higher avalanche accident risk in these regions?
Two ski patrollers died on Sunday in the ski resort in Morillon in the Haute Savoie region of France while setting avalanche control charges before the resort opened to the public. These avalanche-control charges accidentally went off, killing them. Police are investigating the cause of this, which is rare. Ski patrollers set up controlled explosions before the slopes open to mitigate the risk of larger avalanches. You can read my previous interview to Coco Torres, former Head of Operations at Valle de Las Leñas in Argentina, about how patrollers control avalanches in this high-avalanche prone valley.
The accident took place at an altitude of 1,800 metres (6,000 feet). Forecasters at Meteo France warned of high avalanche risks in the Savoie and Hatue-Savoie regions following overnight snowfalls. The risk of avalanches was at 4 out of 5.
These fatalities bring the number of weather-related deaths in Europe this month to at least 26, with heavy snow blanketing the Balkans and part of the Alps.
Two Bulgarian snowboarders were killed by an avalanche in the Pirin Mountains on Friday. The Bulgarian Red Cross said that the pair ignored the warnings and weather alerts and triggered the avalanche.
A 48-year old driver of a snow plough died in Germany this past Friday after his vehicle plunged into an icy river.
Over the past 20 years, there has been an average of 100 reported avalanches a year where people were involved. On average, 23 people die in avalanches every year, the majority (+90%) in open mountainous areas where people were off-piste skiing, snowboarding, or backcountry touring on skis or snowshoes.
In controlled areas (roads, railways, communities and secured ski runs) the 15-year annual average number of victims dropped from 15 at the end of the 1940s to less than one in 2010. The last time anyone died in a building hit by an avalanche was in 1999.
Avalanches such as the one that hit the Hotel Säntis in Schwägalp are rare.
Bruno Vattioni, director of the Säntis lift company, said on Friday “an avalanche of this size is not predictable”. Locals have not experienced anything like it in the 84 years’ existence of the Säntis cable car. Normally, the southern face of the Säntis, the other side of the peak, is the more dangerous.
How are avalanches normally monitored?
Since 1945, the national avalanche warning service, run by the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) in Davos, produces a twice-daily national avalanche bulletinusing data gathered by 200 people trained to do the job and 170 automatic measuring stations dotted across the Swiss Alps. This information is shared and used by the police, cantons, communes, mountain resorts, rescue services and other winter professionals across the country.
Are they normally successful at monitoring and protecting against avalanches?
The density of the avalanche warning network and the level of training and expertise is unique to Switzerland. But it cannot catch every avalanche, as SLF avalanche forecaster Frank Techel explained to swissinfo.ch.
How to deal with high prone avalanche terrain – A talk with Coco Torres, former Mountain Manager in Las Leñas and now Operative Consultant for numerous ski resorts.
Jorge “Coco” Torres has left Las Leñas in the year 2010, having worked for several years as the Mountain Manager in charge of all the avalanches control operations, amongst all other mountain matters.
I’ve contacted him as I’ve always found fascinating how Las Leñas took control of their avalanches. Every time there was a storm at Las Leñas, which could last a whole week, we went on hearing bombing all day and all night. I know that Las Leñas is a high prone avalanche terrain.
Skiing in Europe, I cannot say I have heard too many bombs at all, so this prompted me to start putting together a couple of stories that will come out on the next months, on how the avalanches are prevented or controlled in different countries of the world.
Coco told me that he left Las Leñas (Mendoza, Argentina) in the year 2010, and since then he has been working as a consultant in mountain projects and developments. He is going to tell me the process used in Las Leñas at least until he left the valley.