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Route Selection & Self-Rescue

by Robyn Gordon

The easiest way to rescue yourself is to not get into trouble in the first place.

The best philosophy I can convey about how to avoid problems is the Principle of the Three Red Flags, which states that most accidents are not the result of an unavoidable "karmic-cannonball", but rather are the predictable outcome of a series of related events. The trick to the Principle of the Three Red Flags is to recognize when these events are beginning to stack up and work against you. To do this, you must simply learn to notice the insignificant little details that are the ingredients of significant problems.

  1. Always carry rescue equipment and know how to use it--then pretend you don't have any. Don't get caught in the trap of letting the fact that you are carrying extra gear force you into more dangerous decisions. It's sort of like driving on the freeway: we'd all be a lot kinder and gentler if the driver's seat were lashed to the front bumper instead of encased in a padded steel cocoon. A transceiver is not a golden ticket to safety.
  1. Use safe route-finding and travel techniques. And remember: if a member of your party is buried by an avalanche, their only real chance of survival is if you rescue them--don't go for help unless you're sure they're dead, because they will be by the time you get back with the cavalry.



Robyn Gordon
Robyn Gordon

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Also in EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES

About avalanches

by Robyn Gordon

Why Worry About Avalanches?

Snow avalanches are a natural process, occurring perhaps 1,000,000 times per year, world-wide. They are one way for snow on an incline to adjust to the pull of gravity. The vast majority of these slides are not a problem, because an avalanche, in and of itself, is not a hazard. A person (or a person's belongings) has to get involved in order for there to be a problem.

So, who gets caught in avalanches?

 

What happens if you get caught in an avalanche?

 

The fact is, that avalanches don't drop from the peaks onto the heads of unsuspecting innocents with the unpredictability of a plummeting meteorite. 95% of people who are caught in avalanches are caught by a slide that was triggered by themself or a member of their party.

I think this is good news! Our behaviour creates the hazard, so we can change our behaviour to avoid problems.

Avalanche Characteristics

There are many different types of avalanches, but the one that worries us the most is the "slab" avalanche, in which a mass of cohesive snow releases as a unit. This type is easily recognized by its distinct crown and flanks (click for a diagram of the nomenclature associated with avalanches).

Slab and other avalanches can be hard or soft, wet or dry and can be triggered naturally or artificially.

Spotting Avalanche Hazard: The Avalanche Triangle

Some places have avalanches: Switzerland's Alps, Utah's La Sals, Nepal's Himalayas, New Zealand’s Mountains. Some places don't: South Viet Nam, the Mile-High Stadium, your living room (the distinctions are not always so obvious, unfortunately).

Why is this? Avalanches are formed by a combination of three things that together are known as the "Avalanche Triangle". These 3 ingredients may be present in one location but absent 10 feet away. The three legs of the triangle are Snowpack, Terrain and Weather.

Detecting Instability

There are many tip-offs to the presence of a potential avalanche, including surface clues and active stability tests. You should never trust a single information source--stability evaluation is an ongoing process!

The information from this page originates from www.avalanche.org.

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New Zealand Avalanche resources

by Robyn Gordon

Mountain Saftey Council (MSC) New Zealand

The Mountain Safety Council is an important advocate of outdoor safety in new Zealand. They have an excellent brochure on avalanches, how to recoginise danger and how to prevent them. Their website has further resources available that you might want to explore. It also contains saftey tips for in summer time.

MSC also runs a website with backcountry avalanche advisory which is provided as a public service. It is intended as an advisory only.

Avalanche forecasting is an undertaking which requires extensive study and field observations. Those endeavouring to travel in the Southern Alps and the mountains of the North Island, do so at their own risk. We recommend winter travellers be well informed about current weather, snowpack and avalanche hazards.

Winter travellers should not travel alone. All members of your party should wear a transceiver (457khz) and know how to use it. In addition everyone should carry a shovel, and a probe. Winter travellers should advise someone where they are travelling, and when they will make next contact.

Department of Conservation (DOC)

The Department of Conservation can assist with safety advise. Check their website for more details.

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Risk Management

by Robyn Gordon

Before teachers take classes on snow trips they should have all students fill out a risk assessment forms. This is called risk management.

The forms help to identify all of the possible risks that may occur during the trip. The next step is then to work through scenarios how the grooup will respond in case one of the scenarios happens. Each of the scenario's should be worked through to make sure they have the right equipment, first aid, support systems, and procedures in place before they go.

They are then prepared for every possibility.

The Avalanche Lady covers risk management in her speech and can help school groups with providing the risk assessment forms.

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