Saturday, 25 January 2014

Avalanches, Education and a Good Month

January has sure "come in like a Lamb - gone out like a Lion" as the old saying goes. Currently the mountains above 600m are loaded with snow. The rapid rise and falls in temperature above the summits has at times stablised the snow pack with water penetration, but like to today its often followed by hail/graupel and then drops in temperature. Snow being cold water, is dense and sticky when wet, dry and fluffy (powder) when dry. Wet on top of dry, thing's can go awry - dry on top of wet the ski's are a good bet. Wind, wetness and the wet grain size in a rounding phase can be just as dangerous as the faceting in a growth phase. It's all part of the Jenga of a snow pit with layers of different density and weight and why we are in a high risk phase and need to take care.I am not a snow scientist but we are very lucky in Scotland that we have the SAIS to give us area forecasts with a really good narrative which folk often fail to read. Read the forecast and think about what its telling you and have a plan A and B. 
Getting stuck in with the shovel at Glencoe Mountain
January has been a good month on the avalanche education front.  Glencoe Mountain owner Andy Meldrum and the staff on the hill at Glencoe have been tremendously supportive. I have run five courses so far for Freeskiers, Ski Tourers, Split boarders/boarders and some mountaineers. Last course is 31st Jan but more will follow if there is demand. These courses have been supported by Anatom who import BCA and follows the BCA 101 teaching format. Each student from now on will get a copy of the BCA DVD "Take Charge - Leading a Companion Rescue. I have also had help from Ortovox with safety academy booklets for students providing an easy reference text for folk to take away. The beacon park at Glencoe is a great training aid and the protable Ortovox STS training system I have gives flexibilty with an 8 transmitter portable wireless system. The course is very much about planning and avoiding trouble using four A's & 3C's as a thinking tool. Good habits, group psychology and thinking yourself out of trouble not into it are the basic concept. The fundamental principle is that we should all carry a beacon, shovel and probe (and maybe if you have the money an airbag) but your decisions should not be influenced by them, as if you need them your have made a bad decission somewhere. Being human shit happens. Students on the course have had a variety of beacons and its always interesting to compare performances. All the digital beacons are good and effective and the best one is the one you know and practice with. One of the things that hits home the hardest on the rescue side of the course is how hard the digging is and how much time it takes. Survival of your friends comes down to how organised and practiced you are at digging, and the quality of shovel you have. So far we have produced some excellent diggers on our courses!
Avalanche Divas show how it's done

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