How do you mange or minimise risk if you have to travel on these aspects or choose to ski them? Well you don't manage the risk with any degree of certainty as you just don't know for sure where weak spots are, and you will for sure not know the true propagation risk from a trigger. You can't minimise what you don't know - so uncertainty! And yet graphically on the above for the inexperienced person there is a temptation to look at these localised hot spots in the rose and think "I can avoid them" surely I will recognise these weak areas and can ski/walk/climb around them.
Black 100% chance of getting whacked while either minding your own business in Galtur or being suicidal in Tignes
Red 98% chance of getting whacked on an aspect with that high level of risk and the Scottish equivalent of Black sometimes (apart from Gaick Lodge our main roads and villages are not in avalanche run out zones so Black does not apply)
Orange the big problem (to me) be it slices of tray bake sized considerable, or isolated hot spot. If the rose is all orange then in my view its just the same as red but less obvious. You have a very high chance of getting whacked. Stick some localised Orange risk in among yellow then it becomes 50/50 and that's still scary uncertainty as folk think they can recognise the danger hot spots and avoid them. Maybe they can, but then maybe not. A low angled slope day for me, well away from run out areas. The more times you roll the dice in the orange/considerable risk zone then the more chance you won't be needing your old age pension. 50/50 isn't odds, its worse than Russian Roulette!
Yellow maybe a 40% of getting away with it, but victim triggered death is still very likely if you hit a hot spot and it propagates into something big, or even if smaller and its above a terrain trap.
Green well either its the best of Scottish neve and you should be climbing with the tools in blue skies, or get the lawn mower out in February. If its the best of Scottish neve and its a sunless aspect then watch out next time it snows as there's could to be something growing on the top surface like hoar or faceting that will give a higher risk when it snows next.
Piss or get off the pot
The above Americanism is pretty appropriate. Only one thing is for sure, we can only manage uncertainty up to a point. We live in a chaotic universe, bad things happen to good people and as mountain folks a lot of good things happen to good people as a reward for getting out there. I think we have to accept that the line between the best day skiing of your life and getting taken out by a slide is pretty close if you want to ride the powder days on higher angled slopes. If you don't accept that then take up another sport. We can reduce risk by managing uncertainty and reduce consequences by equipment and terrain choices, but in the end avalanche prediction and avoidance will never be 100% accurate. I am told knitting is pretty safe if you prefer a more sedate pastime with an easier risk assessment.
Avalanche Types and Uncertainty
Some types of avalanche are more predictable i.e "certain" and some less so and some types of avalanche risk can be more easily seen in tests and observations. The ones that concern us the most are of course the least predictable with the greatest uncertainty so require extreme caution due to uncertainty. You might think wind slab/storm slab the one that kills the most folk should be "Extra Caution". But, if you think about it you can work out in advance:
- Aspects that might be affected from a weather forecast, and very importantly observed wind direction
- Angle of slope based on contours, precipitation type and deposition
- Altitude, and what the precipitation is and its likely rate of deposition
- Anchored to based on summer knowledge of your ski patrol/local area, or previous avalanche forecasts that mention temperature rises and surface or deeper instabilities.
|Wet snow release triggering a weakly anchored slope|
|Powerful wet snow glide avalanche that takes everything in its path. Buachaille Etive above Lagangarbh. You don't want to be in here if its raining during a thaw and after a big snowfall.|
|Persistent slab, skier triggered slab March 30th 2013 Glencoe Mountain Ski Area - Fatal|
|Phillip Rankin, Dr Ian Maclaren, Peter Weir and Paul Moors at the opening of Glencoe Mountain Transceiver training park.|
|Hamish MacInnes who officially opened the park|
|Practising digging effectively, a crucial |
and often overlooked part of avalanche rescue
Organised rescue teams use RECCO which is harmonic radar that can also be used from a helicopter. RECCO is a standard search tool by mountain rescue in
I sell avalanche safety equipment. The 3+ is an excellent choice for skiers and also has a Recco strip inside. A discount and some free training to local skiers and climbers who purchase from me. £220 for a 3+ for info email email@example.com
Every skier going off piste or touring in the mountains should carry three essential items. A transceiver to be located or locate a buried companion, a collapsible snow probe to confirm the victim’s location and a strong aluminium shovel to dig them out quickly. I sell Ortovox shovels and probes and can recommend the Alu240 and Beast shovel to complement the 3+ transceiver or for a pro user the pro alu III shovel and 280 carbon probe. email for details firstname.lastname@example.org
|Glencoe ski patrol practising in the park|
|Killin Mountain Rescue and a group of Freeride skiers using the training park|
Don't get buried! But if you do you want to be searchable
and found FAST!
|Burnett - 22 hours Buried. Pic courtesy of Hamish MacInnes|
A really good summary of this pretty miraculous survival on this web site
|I sell these reflectors for £25 each. If you have an Ortovox Transceiver then since 2018 one is already built into the beacon as a backup|
How does a Recco Reflector work?
- Professional rescuers can quickly pinpoint a buried reflector-equipped person’s precise location using harmonic radar. Often quicker than a transceiver.
- This two-part system consists of a RECCO R9 detector used by professional rescue groups, and RECCO reflectors that are attached to clothing, helmets, protection gear, and boots worn by skiers, mountaineers and riders and other outdoor users.
- When used in conjunction with a RECCO Detector, the reflector's diode mixer acts as a harmonic generator to produce multiples of the frequencies received from the detectors.
- The returned signal is translated into an audio tone whose volume is proportional to the returned signal, and by means of volume control, a trained rescue operator can literally go straight to the buried reflector once a signal is detected.
- It is a non-powered device meaning that it never needs to be switched on, will never lose signal strength and needs no batteries to function. It is maintenance free and has a virtually unlimited life.
- In total more than 900+ search & rescue organizations in the world endorse it.
The Recco Rescue System is different from Avalanche Transceivers because its a small band-aid size sticky transponder which is not powered, the reflector can be applied to your boots or helmet, the Recco detector does not contain any antennas and cannot be picked up by an avalanche beacon, the Recco detector has a range of over 200 metres which professional mountain rescue teams can pick up in the case of an avalanche.
Due to it not being a passive device the reflector will not lose signal strength and no battery to malfunction.
|The hand held R9 Recco detector is the size and weight of a hard back book and easy for rescuers to get to the scene and to search with.|